As we journey through Lent this year, in a time when we already have sacrificed a great deal because of the COVID restrictions, are we seeking silence? Are we choosing to sacrifice for God over the sacrifice being forced upon us by man?
Lent will lead us to the awe and wonder of God if we seek Him. If we turn away from the fear and noise of the world around us and listen for His voice. Will we go to the mountaintop (albeit buried in snow)? God is there waiting for each one of us. He is as close as a prayer, a sincere moment of silence to connect with the One who is for us. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Our readings today teach us to trust God completely with all things, including the lives of our children; to encounter the surpassing love of God; and to transfigure ourselves more and more into the image and likeness our God with Jesus showing us the way.
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
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Our Gospel writer, Mark, tells us that this Transfiguration occurs 6 days after the Lord first spoke of His Passion to the disciples (Mk 8:31-33). In the creation story, God rested after 6 days which invites us to ponder the re-creating effect of Christ’s Passion, eternal rest in the presence of God.
In Greek the word "transfigured" is metamorphoo from which we get the word metamorphosis. Mark records, “and His clothes became dazzling white, such as not fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3). The Gospels of Matthew and Luke add that Jesus' face changed and became radiant like the sun. Jesus was totally transformed before their eyes.
The followers of Jesus witness the status of their Master raised to that of Moses and Elijah. His words have the same power as those of Law Giver (Moses) and the first among the Prophets (Elijah).
If we compare the experiences of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, the first parallel we notice is the place: the mountain top. Moses received God's word on a mountain top in Exodus 3:1-6. Elijah heard the whisper of God's presence on a mountain top in 1 Kings 19:8-13. In both encounters, Moses and Elijah stood on holy ground at the peak. This represented the closest place between heaven and earth, the place where God would descend to humanity. Mountain tops were places of encounter and revelation. “Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain.” (Mark 9:2)
Both men hid their faces when they realized God was truly present. Encounter caused a sense of awe and holy fear. They could not look upon the glory or power of God. Yet, both men were changed after their encounter. Unlike Moses and Elijah, Jesus did not hide His face against the glory of God. Indeed, He shined with God's glory.
For Moses and Elijah there were signs of God's presence. Moses had the burning bush. Elijah did not have the expected signs (wind, earthquake, or fire), but had a whisper of a gentle breeze. The Transfiguration had the appearance of Jesus, the cloud and the voice, a revelation of the Holy Trinity.
Moses, the Law-Giver, spoke for God as a people became a nation. Elijah, first of the Prophets, spoke for God as a nation turned away from God. Placing the two together symbolized the summed experience of Judaism. Indeed, "the Law and the Prophets" was a code phrase for the Bible; Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) were the Living Scriptures.
However, only Jesus was left after Elijah and Moses (representatives of the prophets and the law) disappeared. The apostles received instruction from the heavenly voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” (Mark 9:7b) They were commissioned to proclaim ‘the era of salvation had come’; the law and prophets are fulfilled; look at Jesus, listen to Him and be transformed.
Peter in his great fear says, “Rabbi, it is good we are here! Let us make three tents: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). Jesus does not rebuke Peter, as He has done before. It might be near the time of the pilgrim Feast of Booths when booths/tents are made for pilgrims to dwell in as a reminder that God’s people dwelled in tents after God led them out of Egypt.
Peter has realized that the old covenant order is no longer binding. It is no longer necessary to go to the Jerusalem Temple to worship God. They can worship God the Son on the mountain. Peter does not want this experience to end.
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The destination of our Lenten journey is clearly presented in today’s readings: the mystery of the Cross, in which the Father ‘did not spare His own Son’, and the glory of the Risen Christ in His final triumph, witnessed on the mountain top.
The testing of Abraham, in the first reading from Genesis, presents a brutal age in which the sacrifice of children was not uncommon – in fact, the people of the old Israel were taught to sacrifice an animal in place of their offspring, to turn them away from this horrendous temptation.
This story is a dramatic presentation of one of the most important spiritual principles, that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING is to be preferred to the love of God. God must be revered above everything else, even above those people we love most dearly. The return of Isaac to Abraham at the end of the story signals a marvelous paradox: the more we sacrifice our finite loves for the infinite love of God, the more those earthly goods come back to us enhanced!
This emotional story of the testing of a father’s love is linked with the basic truth of our Christian faith, proclaimed by St Paul in the second reading. The eternal Father, who for our sake ‘did not spare His own Son’, will not refuse anything to His people in their need. The promise made to Abraham was to be fulfilled in the victory of the Savior’s resurrection.
The Transfiguration was also a revelation of the Trinity. The voice from heaven proclaimed the words of the Father. The Son stood transformed in His glory. And the Spirit overshadowed the scene as the cloud. The scene hearkens back to Jesus’ Baptism; the Father's voice from heaven, the Son rising from the water, and the Spirit descending upon the Son. The difference between the two events, however, lies in the reception of the revelation. In the Baptism, Jesus received the revelation with others as witnesses. In the Transfiguration, the followers received the revelation.
The Transfiguration was both confirmation and foreshadowing. The event confirmed Peter's confession. Jesus was the Messiah. But it also foreshadowed the mission of the Messiah, death on the cross to enter glory. The Transfiguration was a look backward and a look forward. For us, the Transfiguration reminds us of our Baptism when the Trinity revealed themselves to us. It is also a look ahead to our death and resurrection. Yes, we, too, will be like Christ in glory. But the road to that glory leads down the mountain into the mundane affairs and sufferings of life.
Theme in Our Life
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As the Gospel is proclaimed today, the voice is directed, not only at Peter, James, and John, but at every contemporary disciple; the voice instructs all followers of Christ to listen to the words and works of Jesus, and to find within the message of life and salvation.
This enlightening glimpse of Christ's future glory—a glory in which we will share—was given to these Apostles to strengthen and encourage them before terrible test of their faith during the Passion and Death of Jesus. For the same reason, the Church places the story of the Transfiguration during the season of Lent. We are or should be mortifying ourselves during this season. This mortification can earn for us a glorious and unending future life. To encourage us to continue, we are reminded that the One we are following, the One whose voice we listen to, is none other than the Son of God. There are the voices of many false prophets shouting around us, telling us to enjoy ourselves in this life, to "eat, sleep, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die," but there is the rub—tomorrow we shall die, but where shall we go?
We are grateful for this consoling and encouraging vision of Jesus’ glory. It is a guarantee and a foretaste of the joys and the glory that will be ours for eternity, if we persevere in our struggles against the world, the flesh and the devil. This struggle is not easy for our weak nature, but our loving Savior is always beside us to "raise us up and strengthen us". When we are tempted to give in to our human weaknesses, or to give way under the weight of the crosses, we think are about to crush us, remember Mount Tabor and the vision of the glorified Jesus, who a few weeks later faced His own passion, cross and death for our sake. Jesus is our way, our truth, and our life. He leads us to total surrender to the will of God. Our trust in God’s tremendous love and mercy will have an eternal reward.
Preparing for Sunday
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In our journey to God, we have peak moments. Recall your peak moments and thank God.
St. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Ponder this statement in your heart, inviting the Holy Spirit to fill you with truth.
How will you be transformed this Lent to become the person God is calling you to be? Will you choose the love of God over all things and people, as Abraham did?