Second Sunday of Lent
Every year, on the Second Sunday of Lent, we hear the Gospel about the Transfiguration of Jesus. The transfiguration prepares different people for the future passion and death of Holy Week.
This is true, first of all, for Jesus himself. Secondly, it is true for the apostles present at the event. And, finally, it should be true for all of us who try to understand our Christian life in the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict.
First of all, for Jesus. Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan. He’s endured temptations in the desert. He selected his disciples. He has taught and healed many. But opposition is also developing.
At this critical point, Jesus climbs a mountain, always a place to commune with God. While on this mountain, Jesus is transfigured, and two of God’s great prophets appear.
Moses and Elijah, the gospel writer declares, are conversing with Jesus. What are they talking about? As prophets, Moses and Elijah should be mouthpieces of God. As intimates of God, they are taking Jesus into their company.
But what are they talking about? Neither Matthew nor Mark tells us. But Luke does. Luke declares, “Moses and Elijah ….were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). The transfiguration prepares Jesus for the depths of abandonment that he would experience on the cross, when he would cry out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
We know now that Jesus’ obedience would be stronger than any temptation to despair. He “learned obedience by suffering,” as the Epistle to the Hebrews will say.
The Transfiguration, secondly, was intended to prepare the apostles for Holy Week. How effective was the Transfiguration in doing this?
Well, it is obvious that Peter pretty much missed the point. He nervously suggested doing something in response. And as soon as he returns to the plains of everyday life, he is quick to rebuke Jesus when the Lord talks about having to suffer and die. Later, he will be quick to draw his sword and strike the high priest’s servant, as Jesus completes the agony in the garden.
The transfiguration didn’t seem to work very well in Peter’s case.
If we are honest, we’ll admit that we are a lot like Peter. We do not hear Jesus; we do not listen to him. Even though we may have our mountain experiences, we go back to everyday life. We nervously babble that we should do something, build some tents, or make some money, or plant some tree, or whatever. Anything to distract us from letting our lives be changed. We should be changed through our Lenten observance. We should understand what resurrection means.
The transfiguration should prepare us to understand our death in the light of the resurrection. St. Benedict, in his Rule, encourages us to remind ourselves day by day that we are going to die (RB 4:47).
We Christians should have a different understanding of death. We should not fear it. We should say with St. Paul: “O death, where is your victory, O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor 15: 55).
Once we accept this conversion in regard to death, our priorities change. We use our energies differently. We don’t regret the passing years. We don’t lament the fact that our days on this earth are limited. We focus on eternal life, life with God.
That is why St. Benedict can couple his somewhat morbid reminder to keep death daily before one’s eyes, with a strikingly similar but more positive tool of the spiritual life. He encourages us to “Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire” (RB 4:46).
Listening to Jesus means accepting his message that it is only through His passion and death that resurrection happens. It is only by saying with Him, “Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit,” that we truly obey.
That is what our Christian life is all about. And that is what we are practicing in Lent.
Reflection by Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB