Mar 19, 2011

2nd Sunday in Lent - Bright lights, dazzling clothes

Transfiguration - Ludovico Carracci 1594
Gn 12: -4
2 Tim 1: 8-10
Mt. 17: 1-9

Motivational speakers thrive on energy. They seek to put a fire under us in order that we might move forward, make a decision, feel more energized about our work, gain a new insight into the value of things we are familiar with, find a new enthusiasm for our lives and accomplish more with what we have. They inspire us to set goals and to believe we can accomplish great things.

Often we find ourselves in a pattern of behavior that leaves us somewhat bland and bored. A good motivational speaker will shake us out of our complacency and wake us to the possibility of success. “Here’s a way you may have never thought of.” Get rich quick! Take advantage of the stock market for better returns! Motivate others to join you in new possibilities of success! Start a new internet business and fulfill your dreams and goals for a better life! Many promises are made in such events.

In light of today’s Gospel, the awestruck Apostles Peter, James and John, may have found the ultimate motivational speaker in Jesus himself. But Jesus’ promises demand a personal price. It will be glorious but it must first be otherwise.
The amazing mountain top experience of Jesus’ Transfiguration evidently moved these chosen three although Peter alone speaks: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents . . .” Peter was motivated to welcome those who appeared in this vision with Jesus: Moses and Elijah. Considering this Gospel scene in its splendor and mystery, however, Peter’s words sound well intentioned but na├»ve. Jesus appears in glory before his glory (the resurrection) takes place. He reveals the great mystery that may have confounded the Apostles – is Jesus more than just a mere human? What is his relationship to God? What does the phrase “Son of God” mean?

Here’s the answer and you three alone will know – it’s all true. Christ is the culmination of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). He is the long awaited promise of God’s abiding presence among us. Put your faith and trust in him. The voice of the Father speaks in the same manner he did at the Jordan River: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased: listen to him.” (Mt. 17: 5). However, there’s more beyond this mountain top. These three select Apostles will receive energy to endure what is about to unfold: the suffering of the Cross. This event was meant to leave an indelible memory on the conscience of these Apostles.  It must have because we hear of it today. But, the Gospels of Lent are not a spectator sport.

The Sunday Gospels this season are chosen to pull us into the scene. To motivate us to see and to wonder about who this Jesus is for us just as the Apostles were confronted with that same question and all Christians since that time thousands of years ago.

We walk up the mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John. We stand before the transfigured Christ who shines in splendor like the sun. We see Moses and Elijah and we are dazzled by the brilliance of it all. Likely, we are struck speechless like James and John. Or, maybe we are motivated to blurt out with Peter: “Let’s build those tents! Let’s stay awhile!” In the end, what about our faith in Christ and his Church motivates us to live differently from those around us? What difference has Lent made for me - or does it? This is all about faith.

Our first reading is the classic scene of the promise given to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you . . .” (Gn 12: 2). All Abram had to do was, “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house . . .” (Gn 12: 1). Easy to say but hard to do? Not if our faith is the source of our motivation. Not if our personal faith in Christ pushes us forward with trust. Granted, a faith that is blind to fear and doubt; a mature faith that is rooted in the will of God as it was for Abram. As Peter, James and John came later to understand. Easy to say but often hard to do.

For these three chosen, who were “charged” by Jesus to keep the mountain top vision secret, it was the beginning of the rest of their journey with Jesus. A journey that the other Apostles and everyone of us must walk as well: through the Cross to the Resurrection. But, why the secret and even more, why the vision?

The Preface for today, the Second Sunday in Lent, explains: “On your holy mountain he revealed himself in glory in the presence of his disciples . . . He wanted to teach them through the Law and the Prophets that the promised Christ had first to suffer and so come to the glory of his resurrection . . .”

Why the secret? Wait until the resurrection and then will you know the whole purpose. As wonderful as it would have been for Peter, the enthusiastic tent-builder, to have stayed up high above all the trouble below, Jesus must continue his destiny to the Cross for our salvation. And so must we to our Cross for our salvation.

We stand today on the other side of this marvelous, mysterious event. But, we too need to be prepared. We too need an explanation for suffering, sadness, the “life is not fair” mentality. Today, we too need to come down our mountain of pride, selfishness, greed, lust, self-interest, or whatever else we may have already identified needs to hear the good news of God’s mercy.

Only a strong and trust-filled faith, like that of Abraham can keep us on task. But, it was not and is not easy. For these three and the other nine, the cross of Christ shook them to their very foundation as they clung tightly to fear and disillusionment. The Eucharist has the power to set us free of fear and is the absolute guarantee of Christ’s abiding presence among us. So, let’s come down the mountain top and be motivated to carry on and know that God’s word is like a rock. “Rise, and do not be afraid . . .” (Mt 17: 7).

(P.S. Part 2 of "Divine Physician" below will come shortly)