REMINDER: This Sunday we begin our new Mass time at 4:00pm!
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT (A)
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 17:1-9, we hear the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus leads Peter, James and John to a mountaintop where he appears with Moses and Elijah. During that time Jesus’ face is said to shine brilliantly “like the sun” and His clothes “white as light.” It ends with the voice of the Father proclaiming, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” After it is all over, Jesus tells the three of them not to tell anyone what they just witnessed until after the Son of Man is raised from the dead.
When we read about the Transfiguration of Christ we are often reminded that Moses represents the law and Elijah the prophets, and in Christ we find the fulfillment of the law and prophets. This is certainly true. Moses and Elijah were the only two prophets who heard the voice of God directly – and both atop mountains, just as the Transfiguration now occurs atop a mountain with the voice of God the Father once more being heard. Moreover, Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15 that “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me,” and “him you shall heed.”
What does Moses mean by “a prophet like me?” What makes Moses unique? We are told at the end of Deuteronomy, the last book of Moses, “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Dt 34:10). Jesus is the prophet Moses predicted. Like Moses, God knows Him “face to face,” but their relationship goes even beyond that. As John proclaims, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1:17-18).
And so the Transfiguration is a momentous occurrence, giving testimony to the fact that Jesus is the one predicted throughout all the Old Testament scriptures. Not only is Jesus the Messiah, the one that Israel has been awaiting. His divinity has been revealed — He is the Son of God. But why reveal this truth to Peter, James and John at this time? And why the strange command not to tell anyone else until “the Son of Man is raised from the dead?”
Let us look at the series of events immediately leading up to the Transfiguration. Only a week before, Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Some were saying that Jesus was the prophet Elijah returned to them, or one of the other prophets, but Peter nailed it in one when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It was then that Jesus changed the name of Simon, the fisherman, to Peter, the rock on whom He would build His Church (Mt 16:13-20).
So Peter, even before the Transfiguration, had already proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ and the Son of God. It is interesting to note that here, too, Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone yet that He was the Christ (Mt 16:20). It was at this time that Jesus started to tell them about the sufferings that He would have to undergo in Jerusalem, that He would be persecuted, that He would be killed, but also that He would be raised from the dead. Peter objected greatly to this, saying, “Lord, this shall never happen to you” (Mt 16:21-22). Jesus then told them that not only would He have to suffer and die, but that if they would truly be His disciples, they would have to take up their own crosses and follow Him. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).
And so we see that immediately after Jesus is proclaimed as the long awaited Messiah, He begins predicting His own suffering, death and resurrection – and tells His followers that they, too, must follow Him in this. Why start speaking of suffering right after His divinity is revealed? Pope Benedict XVI has said, “Jesus’ divinity belongs with the Cross — only when we put the two together do we recognize Jesus correctly” (Jesus of Nazarth, v. 1). But the Apostles at this time could not have known what we know now. They had not yet witnessed the events of Holy Week. Pentecost was still in the future. Put yourself in Peter’s shoes at this time. You have proclaimed this man, Jesus, as the Christ. You have come to believe in Him and to trust in Him. All of your hope and the hope of Israel is on His shoulders. And now He is telling you that He will soon have to die, and you, too, must die with Him. He promises resurrection. But is it any wonder Peter says, “God, forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”
It is after six days of this that Peter, James and John are led to the mountaintop by Jesus to witness His Transfiguration. They see Christ in all His glory. And they hear directly the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son… listen to Him.” The Transfiguration not only revealed God’s glory in Christ, but it also served to strengthen the faith of the Apostles, to prepare them for the trials that were to come. This is why Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after He had risen from the dead. Seeing God’s glory and hearing His voice directly reassured them that they could, and should follow Jesus wherever He led them – even if He was leading them to the cross.
The Church gives us today the vision of the Transfiguration for the same reason. Lent is a time of preparation and anticipation. We, too, need to be strengthened before the events of Holy Week. If we are to walk with Jesus into Jerusalem, and to see Him suffer and die there, we must also have faith in the resurrection. We need to hear God’s voice, assuring us that “This is my Son – listen to Him.” We need to listen to Mary, His devoted mother, saying, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). Like Peter, James, John and the other Apostles, we need to be prepared to follow wherever He leads us, even if He leads us to the cross. This is what it means to be a disciple. This is what it means to be a follower of Christ. It does not mean living a life free of pain and suffering. It means living a life where you know your suffering has meaning, because of the One who suffers with you. It means in the midst of trials, still being able to say, “Lord, it is good that we are here” (Mt 17:4).
St. Paul tells us today to “bear your share of hardship for the gospel, with the strength that comes from God” (1 Tim 1:8). Being a follower of Christ is not easy. Like anything worth doing, there will be trials and hardships. Whether you are dieting to lose weight, exercising and training to excel at a sport, or studying to ace an exam, it requires suffering and endurance on your part to persevere. But you do it because the goal is worth it. The Christian life is no different. We should not expect it to be easy, but the goal is worth it.
We can expect hardship. Jesus tells us that plainly. You want to follow Him? Then here, pick up your cross and head to Calvary. Because that’s where He is going. But the goal is worth it. The same Jesus tells us, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And so, like Peter and the others, we may not fully understand what trials the Lord has in store for the time ahead of us. Yet we can, like Paul, have faith that we will be able to endure our share of hardship. And we can, like Peter, continue to say, “It is good, Lord, to be here.”
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723