Jesus took Peter, James, and John and transformed them from fishermen to apostles. Our Gospel reading from the Second Sunday of Lent presents a scene of amazement that challenges Christians to be free. It challenges us to cast our lot with the Lord, knowing that the Lord will mold us like a refiner’s fire. We journey to the mountaintop at the Lord’s invitation:
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.”
Matthew tells us that as Jesus reveals himself to Peter, James, and John that he changed them. So as Jesus did then, Jesus now does the same for us. This transfigured Jesus, this revealed Jesus, shakes us up and frees us from the bonds of our control. This transfigured Jesus calls us to journey with Him:
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
My favorite statue in New York City is the Harriet Tubman Memorial, also known as Swing Low, located in Harlem. The statue is striking. The first time I saw it, I just stopped and stared at this 13-foot bronze and Chinese granite sculpture. Alison Saar’s portrayal of Tubman mesmerized me. The statue depicts Tubman striding forward despite roots pulling on the back of her skirt. This strong woman looks like nothing could stop her, but the roots look even stronger, almost halting her in her tracks. When you take a closer look at Tubman’s skirt, you see that it is decorated with images representing the former slaves Tubman assisted to escape. Tubman took captive men and women and led them to freedom.
Our reading from Second Timothy puts the freedom that Tubman fought for and the freedom that Jesus invites us to in balance:
He saved us and called us to a holy life,
not according to our works
but according to his own design.
Tubman offered a freedom that was mesmerizing and enchanting. Our Lord offers us an invitation to a holy life. This holy life is not according to our own design. That is perhaps the genius of the Tubman sculpture. The roots do not represent attachments or those things that hold us back from being holy or free. The roots represent fellow travelers along the way whom Tubman had rescued. Our spiritual journey is not an individual one done according to our own will. We journey through this life, and sometimes we are not free. Sometimes we are called to:
Bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God. (2 Tim. 1:8)
We bear this hardship as a Christian people:
The LORD said to Abram:
“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.
I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you.” (Gen. 12:1-2)
This second week of Lent reminds us that we are called individually to be a people of the covenant. Like Tubman, we are called to bear our own hardship, but most importantly we are called as a people to bear each other’s hardships. In this second week of Lent, we go forth like Tubman with our skirts flowing behind us marked by people calling out to us forming a new people. With whom and for whom do we “Swing Low” and cast our lot? The Evangelist Matthew tells us clearly in his gospel for whom we are to cast our lot:
Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.
We cast our lot with the poor, the despised, the beggar, the migrant because Jesus cast a light on how we ought to live. When Jesus rose from the dead, he cast a light on the life he intended and dreamed for His people. Perhaps our Lenten message for this week is how we can, as a Christian people, dream with Jesus a new creation into being.
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