Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday of Lent, Year A
February 24, 2002
Gen 12:1-4; 2Tim 1:8-10; Mt 17:1-9
1) Lent is a 40-day uphill pilgrimage with Jesus. Jesus takes us where he wills and where he knows we need to go.
• Last week he took us with Him up to the top of a mountain of temptations, where we learned with him how to say no to the temptation to do the devil’s work, even if he were to give us all worldly kingdoms.
• Next week, we will travel with Him to the top of Mt. Gerazim, where he will meet the Samaritan woman and admit publicly that He is the Messiah.
• On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, he will take us up the Hill to Jerusalem, where he will heal the man born blind and talk about curing us of our spiritual blindness.
• On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, he will take us up the Mount of Beatitudes, to tell us that unless we, like the grain of wheat, unlike him, fall to the ground and die, we will bear no fruit.
• The next Sunday is Palm Sunday, when we climb the hill of Calvary with him.
Every week Jesus takes his disciples and takes us somewhere new, to teach us something crucial about our following him.
2) Today the Lord takes us up another mountain, the one that is physically the highest. Mt. Tabor could be seen for miles around. It’s enormous. He climbed that mountain with three of his apostles, Peter, James and John. He calls us to climb that mountain with Him this week. Why? What do we have to learn there? I’d like to focus on three things.
3) Conversation with Moses and Elijah — Imagine the scene that the three apostles witnessed and we behold with them. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appear. A Jew at that time would have been memorizing their deeds since the time they could speak. These were two tremendous heroes to a Jewish man. There they are with Jesus and they begin to speak. What are they talking about? They’re not talking about all of Moses’ exploits, about his dealings with Pharaoh, about the ten plagues, about the parting of the Red Sea, about the 40 years in the desert. No. They’re not talking about any of Elijah’s miraculous deeds by the power of God, about his defeating of the priests of Baal in the great Old Testament showdown, about his feeding a family for a year with a small about of flour. They’re not even talking about the miracles that Jesus had worked up until that point, his feeding of the 5000, his raising the son of the widow of Naim from the dead, his walking on water, his casting out of demons. No, they’re talking about one thing, the one thing they knew was the most important event of all of human history, of salvation history, of all time. St. Luke tells us they were talking about Jesus’ exodus, Jesus’ passover, Jesus’ leaving this world for the next. Moses had the original exodus, leading the Israelites out of slavery, through the Red Sea, through the desert, to the Promised Land. Elijah himself had an exodus of sorts, when very mysteriously at the end of his life he was taken in a chariot up to heaven. They were talking about Jesus’ exodus, Jesus’ passover — his passing through death to life, and his leading us all from the slavery to sin and death to the promised land of heaven and eternal life with him. Everything that Moses and Elijah did pointed to Christ and to this event. All of the Law which God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai and which became the first five books of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus and the culmination of his own exodus. All that Elijah did and prophesied — as well as all that the other prophets did and prophesied — pointed to Jesus. They were talking about Jesus’ own passover. The first thing that we need to learn during Lent, the first reason why Jesus took Peter, James and John up Mt. Tabor and took us with Him through them, is so that we can learn, truly, that the greatest event of all is Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, Jesus’ exodus, His leading us from death to life. Just as he needed to prepare them for this event so that they could understand it, so he needs to prepare us for it. And he gave them a picture of His future glory as well, so that while they hit the tremendous bottom of sorrow after having seen him brutally tortured and killed, they might remember his glorious transfiguration, which was a preview of his resurrected glory. We need to see the same thing.
4) Words of God the Father — After the conversation, a cloud covers all of them and out of the cloud came the voie of God the Father saying something to the apostles and to us. Now, there are only three occasions when God the Father speaks in the New Testament. The first is at Jesus’ baptism. The last time is during the Last Supper, on the night Jesus was betrayed. This is the third occasion. This Father of so few words must have had so much to say. He could read their hearts. He knew exactly what they needed. And he said two things. First, this is my beloved Son, so that they clearly knew Jesus’ divinity. The second is an imperative, a command. “Listen to him!” Listen to Him. What had the apostles been doing for the previous several months but listening to Jesus, listening to his parables, listening spell-bound to his teaching, which they and others were admitting was done with an authority unlike the scribes and the pharisees? Peter had already confessed him as the Messiah. They were obviously paying attention to Jesus. Despite that, God the Father gives one imperative to the three on Mount Tabor and to us today, the only imperative Sacred Scripture records his giving us, and so we have to pause to consider its magnitude: Listen to Jesus! Why? Because they were hearing his words but they were not grasping the central message, they were ignoring the one thing they had to get straight. Just like we can ignore it. A few days before Jesus had given the first prophecy of his Passion, that he would be handed over to the Scribes and Pharisees to be put to death. It didn’t register. As soon as this episode is over, they’ll descend the mountain, and Jesus will tell them two things, to which the Father wanted them to listen: (a) that he would indeed be handed over to the Scribes and Pharisees to be killed; and (b) that if they wanted to be his disciples, they too had to deny themselves, pick up their Cross and follow him. God the Father wanted them to listen to this, to let this register. And that’s what he wants us to listen to and have register this weekend. Jesus will die out of love for us to give us the possibility of eternal life, but if we want to have that eternal life, the key to the door is the Cross. We need to deny ourselves, die to ourselves through the Cross and follow Jesus all the way.
5) Coming down the Hill — The third thing is that Peter wanted the experience to continue. “Let us build three booths, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” It was probably the most exhilirating moment of their lives up until that point. They wanted it to continue indefinitely. But Jesus said, “Get up!” and led them down the mountain, back to the mission, to head up to Jerusalem where he would die so that we might live. This is the third lesson we need to learn this Lent. Human life can have these plateau experiences, where everything is in order, we want it to continue. Work and life can be going great and you don’t want it disturbed. School vacation can be going on and you don’t want to go back to school. Leisure can be just what you want it to be. Health. We can want the experience to go on forever. But Jesus says to us, especially during Lent, come on, come down the mountain. He asks us to get out of our comfort zones, or sometimes sends us experiences that push us out of our comfort zones. Fasting, out of our comfort zone of being well-fed. Prayer, getting out of our comfortable recliners or couches and coming to Him. Almsgiving, giving of ourselves, leaving our living rooms and going to see those who need our help, our visit. Lent is about going down the Mountain with Jesus. Christians do this all out of love, all hand in hand with Jesus, knowing that that is our mission. This is what happened with Moses, when he needed to leave the flocks in Midian to go to Pharaoh, in order to set his people free. This is what happened with Abraham, when he was asked by God to leave Ur and go to a faraway land. This is what happened with the Apostles. This is what God wants to happen with us this Lent.
6) We come down this mountain with Jesus to mount another one. On that mountain, Jesus’ clothes will not be dazzingly white, but instead stripped off of him. On that mountain, Jesus’ gloriously transfigured body will bear 180 bloodly scourge marks. On that mountain, His radiant face will be dripping with blood falling down from a crown of thorns. On that mountain, he will be conversing not with Moses and Elijah, but with two thieves. And we make that journey with Him not just during Lent, but in this Mass, when we go from seeing him transfigured in the Gospel we’ve just read, to participating live in his Last Supper and in His Passion, during the Eucharist in which we’re about to share.