He is “the Father’s son, the Beloved.”
Sunday Homily for March 8, 2009
Second Sunday in Lent (L2B)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
The Lenten season seems to keep moving us away from the the ordinary and routinary daily life to some other place, space and time. Last Sunday we were in the desert. Now we are brought up high to a mountain. It has been pointed out that in the bible, important things happen in high places. The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Horeb, the giving of the ten commandments to Moses, The transfiguration of Jesus upon Mount Tabor.
One may say that the desert prepare us for the mountain. The Desert make us lay aside and leave behind those baggages that burden us and bring only the bare necessities in our journey. We cannot climb a mountain otherwise and besides we will be surprise to learn that there are a lot things we can do without. We do not climb a mountain all at once. We do it in stages. We pause to catch our breath and we camp to rest every now and then. It would seem to me this is a better way to live – at least, better than running from one activity to another, overstretching ourselves. Once I was invited to a breakfast meeting and it ended up as neither a breakfast nor a meeting.
There is something about a mountain. You gain a new perspective that can be enriching. From up here, you see the winding trail all at once, how the long stretch leads to a bend that avoids perilous ridges and dangerous ravines. The menacing problems down below look so insignificant from the top of the mountain. Down below, things are seemingly disconnected, experiences are scattered, and life becomes an orchestra but only at the time when the musical instruments are being tuned all at the same time. There is no music, only noises and sounds. From above, things fall into place.
For the gospels, usually so quick-paced, especially that of Mark , the gospel today is a strangely static scene on the mountain: Jesus flanked by Moses and Elijah. The two figures were emblems of the law and the prophets. Then suddenly the Presence! ” A cloud appeared and covered them”. From the cloud the Father’s voice, “This is my Son, the Chosen one, Listen to Him”. This scene reminds us of the other two events in the life of Jesus: His baptism and Resurrection.
The Father speaks the same words as at the baptism in the Jordan, and the “dazzling white clothing” are a sign of the glory of the Risen Lord. The beginning and the end of the story are brought together in one luminous moment. In all three gospels this transfiguration scene comes just after Jesus predicted His passion for the first time. Death, and even the thought of death, freezes the action and brings the whole of one’s life into a point. But that point is not fading into extinction; it is a moment of transfiguration. In this lies the meaning of our own suffering too.
Mark’s source for his gospel was Peter’s experience, and indeed there’s a hint of that in today’s reading. Mark writes, “He did not know what to say”. But the question remains: how are we to understand this or any account of the transfiguration. As an historical event? As a symbolic story? Or as a spiritual experience? Even in the face of less mysterious things our mental categories are limiting and insufficient.
How hard it is sometimes to describe some event in one’s own life.“Did it really happen, or did I only imagine it, or was it something I remember dimly from childhood, or saw on television, or heard my parents talk about?” In real life, fact and symbol and inner experience all come together. How could anyone know what category to put the Transfiguration in?
The easiest thing to say about today’s reading is that it comes directly in Mark’s gospel. It comes from the context of questions about the identity of Jesus. Today’s reading then is the answer. He is “the Father’s son, the Beloved.” We can, however say that as easily as we say our own name, but what does it mean? We could answer from our catechism, but again what do the words mean?
We are in the presence of the profoundest mystery, and our words sound painfully inadequate. Like peter we don’t know what to say. There is a “don’t know” that means ‘don’t care”, but that was not Peter’s. This is one of those instances when Peter is so likeable. He did not claim nor pretended that he knew. We can be clear and eloquent about shallow matters, but we are faced with ultimate things we have to fall silent. If we could rest in that “don’t know”, we would be Christian contemplatives.
Julian Norwich (14th century) wrote: “In the same revelation I saw that many things are hidden which we shall never know until God in His goodness has made us fit to see them. And I am quite content to wait for our Lord to reveal his will in this wonderful mystery.”
When Jesus climbed a mountain late in the evening, old labels, all old identities, were left far below. It may have been in times like those that he realized, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). Later he said of His life, “It is the Father living in me who is doing this work”. And this must be the core meaning of the transfiguration when we experience that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, when “I become one with the Father”, when the “Father lives and does His work in me. This can happen only when I “lose my life for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the gospel”.
Jesus also said, “If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me”. This is how we are meant to be transfigured. But it is a big “If” and when we remove this big “if” and be truly serious in following Jesus, then we begin by truly denying our very selves. Paul said “put on the mind of Christ” How can I if I hold on to my mentalities and ways of seeing and thinking. He also said: “ It is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me”. How can Christ live in me in me if I am full of myself.
Why not take a pen and join me in making a litany of our labels and identities and pray for deliverance, like this Litany continually prayed by the servants of the Luminous cross of Grace. The response possibly is “Lord deliver me”.
From the desire of being esteemed….. being loved……being extolled……being honored……being praised being preferred to others ……being approved………Lord deliver me
From the fear of being humiliated……being despised……being calumniated…..being rebuked…..being forgotten….being ridiculed…..being wronged….being suspected……Lord deliver me.
This is how we are prepared for mission just like Peter, James and John. The transfiguration of Jesus has started to transform them. It is true that when the hour of terror and death arrives, they will scatter. But when the day of the resurrection dawns, they will be drawn back together, around the Risen Lord. Though they will go their separate ways on their missions top the world, they will always remain united by the Lord of Life whose love is stronger than death.
Like Moses they will have to bring God’s laws to a lawless world. Like Elijah they will have to stand up to tyranny and superstition. And our task is to do the same. We are to face with a quiet confidence the world that longs for love and light but always promote selfishness and lies.