Mar 11, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent: "Do you hear Him?"

(Giovani Bellini, 1490)

Gn 12: 1-4a
2 Tm 1: 8b - 10
Mt 17: 1-9

It is true that in order to be a good conversationalist we need to be a listener even more. I think this human art has been lost these days.  We live at a time of information overload, social media, and endless analysis of the daily events political, economic, religious and social.  While the internet is a rich source of information and communication it is also a powerful and at times addictive tool which can affect our personal and cultural lives in some very negative ways.  Opinion as told us, we shout and scream, demand that we be heard, we express our opinion we speak over another as they as speaking. So, we must be on guard and discern wisely what we hear and read about.  What can be a message of light and what can bring us to greater darkness? We ask, “Do I really listen in order to understand?” Can I hear what is being said or have I lost that art?

This second Sunday of our Lenten journey brings us face to face with a moment to listen.  On the mountain we see Jesus and three of his Apostles:  Peter, James and John.  I’ve wondered why these three and not Matthew, Philip or Andrew or any of the other?  Why not just all twelve of them together? 

Well, we can’t presume to know what was in the mind of Jesus but history may reveal some reason.  Peter would become the “rock” of the Church; the flawed but essential sign of the unity Jesus prayed for.  James would become the first leader of the Jerusalem Church and the first of the Apostles to die a martyr’s death.  John would later be given care of Mary, Jesus’ mother, after his death and resurrection.  John would live the longest of all the Apostles and eventually bring the Church to the end of its first century. He was personally known by some of the already successors of his Apostle brethren martyred before his own death.

Be that as it may, these three were obviously significant in the mind of our Lord and to them he sought to reveal a great truth.  He caught their attention and despite Peter’s sincere shout out, they were called to listen and understand.  The future knowledge of the nature of Christ and the unity of the Church would demand it. 

So, in a moment of strange transformation, on the mountain these three encounter a new vision of Jesus never seen before – a shadow of his resurrection. His face “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” And the great prophets, Moses and Elijah, who bring together the Law and the Prophets, are seen speaking with Jesus.  Then to add to the overwhelming vision, a “bright cloud cast a shadow over them” and “a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son . . . listen to Him.’”

Now if a human face is suddenly  transfigured to a human form filled with glory, that shines like the sun, two long ago dead significant Jewish figures appearing, a cloud that shines and a voice that booms from it doesn’t cause you to stop and listen, nothing ever will! Certainly, this was not a Hollywood special effect but rather a deep truth uncovered for these future leaders of the Church. 

That is, Jesus is not a normal human being.  That his nature is both human and divine; that his mission is beyond this world and that he has come in the line of the prophets as the sign of God’s new Covenant, originally established through Abram (our first reading from Genesis) and Moses as the final fulfillment of that sacred Law.  For three Jews to witness such an event it would have all come together in a profound way.  God has fulfilled his promise to Israel and to all of humanity.  This is God’s answer to our sinful disobedience which estranged us from God. (Recall last Sunday’s story of Adam and Eve from Genesis 2).  Now, in Christ, his future passion, death and resurrection, a new and eternal Covenant is established between God and humanity. Still, why not build three tents?  Why not hold on to this glory?   

Once Peter has been silenced in order to get his attention all the more, and after the awestruck fear of the three, there stands Jesus alone as they have known him.  With him, there is no other nor will there be. Yet, this awesome display of other world glory was only temporary.  Here Jesus strengthened them for the days ahead – a time of no glory but suffering and passion; the seeming failure of a mission with the best of intentions.  This was an encounter they would need to never forget for beyond the suffering Messiah, there would come greater glory in the resurrection when the full story would be uncovered of Jesus’ identity and mission, which is now that of the Church.  For now, hold on to this but bring it down the mountain for future reference when the mission will carry on beyond Jerusalem to the entire world. 

That mission began with Abram when God asked a very risky and shocking thing of an old man who by now had settled down albeit apparently not rooted or fixed. Still, with no legacy in sons to leave behind progeny, we can only speculate that Abram may have given in to some level of sadness in, “this is as good as it gets.”

God asked Abram to begin again.  To listen to his command and to “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk . . .” With a divine promise only to go on, Abram went trusting that God “. . . will make of you a great nation.” Abram’s example is forever of one who listened without question and obeyed a command that gave little in detail.  He was able to obey because he listened first only to now see on the mountain who would finally carry this promise to completion.

In the end, the grace of God is given to us all so that we may listen more attentively in order to recognize the voice of God in our own moments of change or transfiguration.  We are not changed as Christ was before his startled three of course but God provides moments for us to listen and understand.  This Lent is always a time for us to stop talking and to listen to God that we may be changed.

In prayer, in charitable service, in the sacraments, in compassion for another, at a time when we include another without judgement and recognize their human dignity, in the sacred Word of God, in the Holy Eucharist, in spiritual reading, in a tough time I’ve endured, in the sickness of another or a word spoken to me or who known where and how and when God will call our attention to himself and demand our ear. All these are moments of encounter with Christ but do I hear him? It may not be a shining face, a voice from clouds above or even at a mountain top moment. How, when or where God will speak to us we will never know if we are not paying attention or wrapped in our own preconceived perception of holiness or self - righteousness. 

Peter, James and John are more like us than we may admit.  They needed to learn and to be formed in the Gospel truth of who Jesus was and who he remains but they eventually made the grade.  They learned to listen to him.

At Mass we hear his Word and we encounter his living presence in the Eucharist - are we changed by him?  Let's pray this Lent teaches us to listen more and talk less that by his grace we may be changed for Easter resurrection.  

O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son, 
be pleased, we pray, 
to nourish us inwardly by your word, 
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.

(From Collect of Mass)