Second Sunday of Lent [Mk 9:2-
25 February 2018
The Transfiguration of Jesus
Readings: (1) Gen 22:1-
Theme in brief:
Attaining glory through the cross
We can reach the mountain of glory only after crossing over the valley of suffering, sacrifice and humiliation.
Explanation of the text
The main focus of last Sunday’s gospel was on Jesus’ humanity; that is, as a human being how he struggled against temptations of the devil. On the contrary, today’s gospel focuses on his divinity by highlighting his glorious state at his Transfiguration on a high mountain. This tremendously fascinating mystery is placed in all the synoptic gospels immediately after Jesus’ question to them: "Who do you say that I am" (cf. Mt 16:15; Mk 9:29; Lk 9:20)? As spokesperson for all the Twelve, Peter had already answered this question by declaring him as the Messiah (Mk 8:29). But his understanding of the Messiah was that of a worldly or political king. According to today’s gospel text "six days" after this question about his real identity, Jesus took Peter, James and John to a high mountain (9:2). The purpose seems to be twofold: (1) to correct their wrong conception of the Messiah; and (2) to teach them about theinevitability of the cross to attain glory.
Earlier also Jesus had tried to correct their wrong understanding by telling them that he is going to be asuffering Messiah (Mk 8:31). That conception must have shocked them. To neutralize this shock and to give them something to hold on to during those shattering moments, Jesus gave them a preview or glimpse of the glory which he was going to attain at his resurrection – of course, only through his suffering and death on the cross. Therefore, the main theme of his Transfiguration, though not directly mentioned in the text, is hidden: the hope of attaining glory through suffering and sacrifice.
Since Transfiguration of Jesus happened on a mountain, it is understood that it happened during Jesus’ prayer – as mountain is a symbol of encounter with God in solitude. The change that takes place in his bodily figure or form ( hence, called Transfiguration) with his clothes shining in dazzling white as if they were perfectly bleached (9:3), clearly points to his glorious state after the resurrection. It was meant to give his disciples a glimpse of his future glory (in anticipation) in order to prepare and strengthen them to face the scandal of the cross. In fact, he wanted to point out that there was a crown beyond the cross.
By now Jesus had made a firm decision to go to Jerusalem and take up his cross. But he wanted to beassured whether he had made the right decision. On Mount Tabor he got a ‘double signature’ for his decision: (1) the appearance of two great figures of OT, namely Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) to give approval or testimony to the path chosen by him; and (2) the voice of God coming from the cloud to approve the path chosen by him. He was declared by the Father as hisBeloved Son precisely for choosing the way of the cross (9:7). In their vision, though the three disciples saw Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus (9:4), today’s text does not mention what the topic of their conversation was. We come to know it from Luke’s gospel that they were speaking about his"departure" or "exodus" which he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31) – a technical word for his passing over from death to life, from the cross to the glory of resurrection.
The voice heard by the three disciples coming from the cloud (= God) has a clear reference to God’s "chosen servant" or the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah (cf. 42:1). By substituting the words "chosen servant" in this OT text with "Beloved Son," Mark’s gospel identifies the Suffering Servant with the Son of God. Jesus became the Father’s Beloved Son precisely because of his willingness to become his obedient servant unto death on the cross. The disciples were told to listen to Jesus (9:7), that is,imitate him or obey his teaching that no glory could come without paying the price of sacrifice, humiliation and suffering.
Peter’s spontaneous reaction to this tremendous experience by proposing the erection of three tents or dwellings (9:5) indicated his desire to prolong it and remain permanently on the mountain of glory bypassing any suffering. This was his short-
Application to life
Every day when we recite the Angelus we pray that we may be brought to the glory of Christ’s resurrection by his passion and cross. This is called the "paschal mystery of Christ" in Christian theology. ‘Pascha’ (a Hebrew word) refers to his passing or crossing over to the glory of resurrection through his death on the cross; and ‘mystery’ (a word used by St. Paul) refers to a hidden plan made by God (now revealed to his saints through the Holy Spirit) to save us only through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, and not in any other way (Col 1:26-
What is a cross? It is a symbol of (1) suffering because Jesus suffered an agonizing death on it; (2)sacrifice because he sacrificed his life on it; and (3) humiliation because he died shameful death of a criminal on it. The crosses in our life can be persons, situations, places, work or job and responsibilities that give us a lot of pain, agony, physical and mental torture, discomfort, risk and humiliation. For example, an alcoholic husband is a cross to his wife, an unfaithful wife/husband to her husband/wife, a disobedient or delinquent child to its parents, and an enemy to his/her enemies. A serious illness (either one’s own or of others in the family) which does not get cured, a risky work or job, a heavy responsibility of family/ workplace/ institution/ organization, a dangerous and insecure place to live can become a cross. All the humiliations we get from our own family members, colleagues, companions and opponents are crosses. Feelings of failure, loss, loneliness, unrest, rejection and hopelessness are also other crosses. The cross daily reminds us to sacrifice our selfishness, security, power, comforts and even friends in order to share Christ’s glory. Our sharing of his glory takes place to some extent when we experience peace, joy, change, transformation and progress in this life after going through a lot of suffering and sacrifices. But this glory is only a glimpse of the everlasting glory of heaven. Compared to that glory, all the sufferings of this present life are not worth (cf. Rom 8:18). This hope of the glory to come sustains us when we walk through the valley of tears.
In this season of Lent, the same voice that came from the cloud (namely, the voice of God) resounds in our ears: "As my beloved son/daughter, are you listening to or imitating Jesus in your moments of trials, temptations, sufferings, humiliation and rejection?" We are asked to "listen to" or follow and obey our Master when we cannot understand God’s ways; when we have to undergo suffering and humiliation, sometimes even unjustly; when we find it hard to carry our daily crosses of family life/ religious life/ priesthood; when our faith in God is shaken by shocking events; and when we are mocked for taking a firm stand on moral issues. We are asked to listen to Jesus in prayer and solitude (symbolized by "the high mountain" in the gospel text). We are invited go back to this ‘mountain experience’ (peak experience) and find solace and reassurance from God in such moments. In our hunger for power, position and ambitions, we are reminded to imitate him who rejected these worldly standards in obedience to God’s will. When we walk in his footsteps, that is, walk the way of the cross in our suffering, failure, humiliation and rejection, we prove to be God’s beloved sons/ daughters in whom he is well pleased. Lent is the most appropriate time to listen to him, to follow his footsteps by embracing the cross with an unwavering hope of sharing his glory.
Like Peter, we have a tendency to prolong happiness and stay fixed on the mountain of glory and escapefrom the problems, pain and hardships of life. We have a desire to attain glory and prolong its joy by trying to evade crosses or sacrifices. Lent is the most opportune time for us to embrace our crosses rather than running away from them. Let us reflect seriously whether this is true: We want to attain unity and harmony in our families, but without sacrificing our time for guiding our children; as married couples we want better understanding with our spouses, but without spending time for communicating mutual expectations; we want to see a corruption-
There are also some other Peters who want to build only ‘tents’ (memorials, monuments, churches, institutions, conduct novenas and establish healing centres), and forget about the mission to the poor and the marginalized. Like Peter of the gospel, they want to remain comfortably fixed in these ‘tents’ and do not want to enter into human misery and problems below the mountain. Of course, mountain of glory is more enjoyable and comfortable than the valley of struggles and tensions. We should not forget that Christian life involves both "going up the mountain" and "coming down the mountain". Our intimacy with the Master and experience of his splendour/glory in prayer and contemplation (which is like our ‘transfiguration experience’) energizes us to go to the valley to face the shadow of the cross in daily realities.
In this Lenten season Jesus invites us to retrace our steps towards the path followed by him. He invites us to climb our own ‘Tabor’ more often – to encounter God in prayer and solitude – with the intention of sending us to the valley of suffering/ problems/ tensions to become beloved servants of God for his cause. He assures us of a crown beyond our crosses – to some extent here on earth in the form of an inner joy which the world can neither give nor take away, and to fullest extent hereafter when we shall participate in his heavenly glory.
Response to God's Word
In moments of trials, suffering, failure and humiliation, do we follow Christ, or our own impulses? Are we willing to climb down from the mountain of achievements, name and fame, power and honour, comforts and pleasures and walk with Jesus up to Calvary? As God’s beloved children, do we listen to Jesus in prayer and solitude? Do we listen to his teaching when we feel we are not on a mountain of glory and honour, but deep into the pit? How often did we fail to be God’s beloved children by turning a deaf ear to his voice in the dark moments of our lives, when things do not go our way? When and in which moments and situations we tried to run away or escape from crosses and got settled in our own comfort-
Lord Jesus, we pray that by your passion and cross we may be brought to the glory of your resurrection. Empower us with your Spirit that we do not run away from crosses in our life or escape from sacrifices involved in fulfilling your mission. Give us the courage and strength to carry our daily crosses so that we may share your glory. Confirm us with an unwavering hope in your promises so that we may courageously face sufferings of this life by keeping in mind the glory of an eternal reward . Amen.