Second Sunday of Lent
Barbara Quinn, RSCJ
Genesis 12: 1-4a
Psalm 33: 4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Second Letter of Paul to Timothy 1: 8b-10
Matthew 17: 1-9
We skim the clouds as I fly en route to El Salvador with a group of our students from the BC School of Theology and Ministry for a spring break “reverse mission” trip. The view is glorious. All the demands and hustle and bustle of daily life seem to peel away. I feel as though I can see to the farthest reaches of the horizon and into mysteries of life as I peer down at the breadth and depth of the ocean waters below. What could be more beautiful and enlivening! Most of you know the feeling.
I imagine Peter, James and John experienced something of the same as they ascended the mountain with Jesus. And then, from the heights, Jesus was transfigured before their eyes. They saw beyond his human appearance into the depths and power of his person. Their intimate experience of him empowered them. If that were not enough, Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared, the respective embodiments of the law and the prophets. They had all they needed. Ever impetuous Peter seized the moment. “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” Life is glorious from this vantage point. There is no question: we need to stay!
But Jesus overshadowed his unbridled satisfaction. While he understood Peter’s human desire to settle into moments of contentment and fulfillment, Jesus knew from experience that he could not pitch a tent there. Shusako Endo, the “Graham Greene of Japan,” captured this gravitational pull towards stopping the journey in his beautiful book,The Life of Jesus. He describes Jesus’ time of apprenticeship with the Essenes, John the Baptist’s austere and disciplined community of discipleship. A rigorous life of prayer and fasting schooled Jesus to face the demands of God’s Reign. He loved the prayer and solitude. He took to the life of simplicity and learning. But he knew he needed to go back into the teeming cities where he could hear and touch the fears and hopes, and joy and pains of his people. After all, as John proclaims in the Prologues to his Gospel, “The Word was made flesh and pitched a tent among us” (Jn. 1:14). Yes, the experiences of transfiguration that belonged to Jesus and the disciples – and to us – are important and even necessary from time to time. But “these moments are fleeting dreams come true,” as the esteemed Scripture scholar Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller wrote years ago. I remember a card a friend of mine gave me on the day of my final profession. It said, “It is one thing to give your life in one moment glorious. It is quite another to give it day by day.” This is our life. The bliss of one’s wedding day is gradually kneaded into years of faithful love, self-giving, joy, and forgiveness. One’s crowning moments in work and ministry arise out of and lead to dedication and discipline and constant renewal. We need both experiences: the glory moments and the more numerous moments of “corn bread ‘n common doin’s.”
As Timothy writes in today’s second reading, we must be ready to “bear [our] share of hardship for the gospels” but not without God’s help and the grace of transfiguring experiences that shore us up with clear-sightedness and resolve, with insight, courage and fortitude. For ours is a God who “has saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours, but according to God’s own design – the grace held out to us in Christ Jesus.” God does not ask us to partner with Jesus in his mission without giving us what we need. But God does ask us to partner with Jesus because our teeming cities and towns and villages are filled with people’s cries of fear and hope, and joy and pain.
Likewise, God audaciously asked Abraham to leave his familiar home, surrounded by family and grounded in the land he loved. What an overwhelming – even unreasonable? – request! But God prefaced this mission with a sign of God’s promise to bless Abraham, to assure him that God indeed was not deaf to his needs. Abraham and Sarah, childless parents, voiced their unlikely hope for a child, even at their ripe old age. And God heard! Isaac was born to them, the transfiguring blessing of their lives! How could Abraham and Sarah fail to trust God as they lived out their day by day lives with all its challenges? And so “go forth” they did to a new and unknown land and mission, trusting that God would show them the way.
We, too, are called and sent. I do not doubt that we, too, each one, have had transfiguring moments if we learn to pay attention to them. This is the work of Lent: to ask God to help us see and hear and touch these glorious moments. They will help us live out our mission day by day to hear the cries of the people we are given with their fears and hopes, joys and pain. Lent calls us to accompany Jesus more deeply as we share his mission.
What “transfiguration” have you experienced?
How does it strengthen you to share Jesus’ mission of love and healing?
What cries of people get your attention?
Pray these questions with trust and confidence. God does not abandon us! Our psalm assures us:
Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us, who have put our hope in you.