2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18; Philippians 3:20–4:1; Luke 9:28–36
Two mountains Jesus’ transfiguration and his agony are complementary episodes. They highlight the divine and the human dimensions of Jesus.
Amovie called Mask is based on a true story of a 16-year-old boy named Rocky Dennis. He has a rare disease that causes his skull and the bones in his face to grow larger than they should.
As a result, Rocky’s face is terribly misshapen and disfigured. His grotesque appearance causes some people to shy away from him, and others to snicker and laugh at him.
Through it all, Rocky never pities himself. Nor does he give way to anger. He feels bad about his appearance, but he accepts it as a part of life.
One day Rocky and some of his friends visit an amusement park. They go into a “house of mirrors’’ and begin to laugh at how distorted their bodies and faces look.
Suddenly Rocky sees something that startles him. One mirror distorts his misshapen face in such a way that it appears normal even strikingly handsome.
For the first time, Rocky’s friends see him in a whole new way. They see from the outside what he is on the inside: a truly beautiful person.
Something like this happens to Jesus in today’s gospel. During his transfiguration, Jesus’ disciples saw him in a whole new way. For the first time they saw from the outside what he is on the inside: the glorious, beautiful Son of God.
This raises a question. Why is the transfiguration of Jesus placed among the Lenten readings, which are usually somber, instead of among the Easter readings, which usually deal with the glory of Jesus?
The answer to this question lies in the context in which we find the transfiguration in the Gospel. It occurred right after Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.
When Peter heard Jesus say this, he cried out, “ ‘God forbid it, Lord! That must never happen to you!’ Jesus turned around and said to Peter,
“ ‘Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don’t come from God, but from man.’ ” Matthew 16:22–23
Peter, James, and John probably needed a spiritual shot in the arm after that shocking experience.
Perhaps that’s also why the Church puts the transfiguration in its Lenten readings. The Church wants to give us a shot in the arm before it turns our attention to the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday.
But there’s another reason why the transfiguration is placed among the Lenten readings. It’s because the transfiguration bears a striking similarity to the agony in the garden.
Like the agony in the garden, which took place on a mountain the Mount of Olives, the transfiguration also took place on a mountain Mount Tabor.
And like the agony in the garden, the transfiguration was witnessed by only three disciples: Peter, James, and John.
And like the agony in the garden, which took place at night, the transfiguration also took place at night. And in both instances the disciples fell asleep while Jesus remained awake, praying.
Finally, and here’s the important reason, the two events the agony and the transfiguration complement each other.
On Mount Tabor the three disciples saw Jesus in a moment of ecstasy, when his divinity shone through in a way that it had never done before.
On the Mount of Olives, on the other hand, they saw Jesus in a moment of agony, when his humanity shone through in a way that it had never done before.
Mount Tabor and the Mount of Olives reveal in striking contrast the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. The two mountain events are inseparable sides of the same coin. They show us the total Jesus in a total way: his humanity and his divinity. And it’s right here that these two mountain events contain an important, practical message for us.
Like Jesus, we too have a twofold dimension about us. There is in each one of us something that is human and something that is divine. There is in each one of us a spark of Adam and a spark of God.
Like Jesus on Mount Tabor, we too experience moments of ecstasy, when the spark of God shines through so brightly it almost blinds us. We feel so close to God that we feel we can reach out and touch him.
During these moments, we marvel at how beautiful life is. We love everyone. We hug our friends and forgive our enemies.
On the other hand, like Jesus on the Mount of Olives, we also experience moments of agony. During these moments, the spark of Adam surfaces so sharply in us that the spark of God flickers and almost dies.
During these moments, life is miserable. We feel that no one loves us. We find fault with our friends, and we curse our enemies. We doubt whether God actually exists.
When these moments of agony and ecstasy come, we should recall the two mountains: Mount Tabor and the Mount of Olives. We should recall that Jesus too experienced these same high points and low points in his life.
We should remember something more important. We should remember that on both occasions, during his ecstasy on Mount Tabor and during his agony on the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed.
If prayer was the way Jesus responded to these moments, then it should be the way we respond to them too.
And if we do, like Jesus during his transfiguration on Mount Tabor, we too will hear our Father say to us, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. . . .” And like Jesus during his agony on the Mount of Olives, we too will experience the touch of our Father’s healing hand.
Let’s close with a prayer:
God, our Father, let us know moments of ecstasy like the one Jesus knew on Mount Tabor. When these moments come, let us do what Jesus did. Let us turn to you in prayer and let us hear you say to us, “You are my chosen child.’’
And, Father, in the same way, when moments of agony come to us, as they did to Jesus on the Mount of Olives, let us do what Jesus did. Let us turn to you in prayer. And let us feel the touch of your healing hand.
Series II 2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18; Philippians 3:20–4:1; Luke 9:28–36
Moments of grace A moment of grace is a moment when we experience God’s presence in a remarkable way.
Psychologist William James wrote a book called Varieties of Religious Experience.
In his book, which is a classic in its field, James describes moments when people have experienced God’s presence in their lives in a remarkable way.
For example, one person describes how such an experience came suddenly and unexpectedly while hiking with some friends. The person writes:
“All at once I experienced a feeling of being raised above myself. I felt the presence of God. . . . The throb of emotion was so violent that I could hardly tell the others to pass on and not to wait for me. I sat down . . . and my eyes overflowed with tears. I thanked God that in the course of my life he had taught me to know him. I begged him ardently that my life be consecrated to doing his will.’’
Consider another example from James’s book.
A man was standing on a hillside at night. All of a sudden he felt his soul soaring upward as he sensed a powerful presence. He says: “I could not any more have doubted that God was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two.’’
These two examples of people who experienced God’s presence give us an insight into what the disciples must have experienced in today’s gospel.
While Jesus was praying in their presence, suddenly “his face changed its appearance, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Then “a cloud . . . covered them with its shadow. . . . A voice said from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen.’ ”
That moment strengthened their faith in a remarkable way. It was a moment they never forgot as long as they lived. Years later, Peter recalled it this way in one of his letters. He wrote:
With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by God the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, “This is my own dear Son . . . !” We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. 2 Peter 1:16–18
What Peter and the disciples experienced on the mountain, and what the people in James’s book experienced, is what theologians call a “moment of grace.’’
It is a moment when the border between heaven and earth seems to fade for a brief period and the glory of God shines into our world. It is a moment when, for a split second in time, God’s presence is felt in our lives in an unmistakable way.
It is a moment when, for a split second in time, we get a glimpse of eternity.
Commenting on a moment of grace in his life, Bede Griffiths writes in his book The Golden String:
“Now that I look back on it, it seems to me that it was one of the decisive events of my life. . . . I was suddenly made aware of another world of beauty and mystery such as I had never imagined existed. . . . There can be few people to whom such an experience does not come. . . . These are moments when we really come face to face with reality.’’
Moments of grace are gifts from God. They cannot be merited. They cannot be won. They cannot be programmed. All we can do is to dispose ourselves to receive them, should God want to give them to us.
And how do we do this? How do we dispose ourselves to receive them? There are two ways.
One is to set aside a little time each day for prayer. During this time we open our hearts to God and invite God to enter them.
Another way is to open our hearts to others in loving service.
Author Ardis Whitman gives us a beautiful example of this way. She describes a young mother getting breakfast for her young family. The mother was hurrying about pouring coffee and juice and spreading jam on toast, while her husband played with the littlest one.
The others were chattering away as the sun poured through the window, lighting up their faces.
Suddenly the mother was overcome by joy by how much she loved
her husband and her children. She became so choked up with emotion that she had to fight back tears.
What happened to that young mother, what happened to the people in James’s book, and what happened to Jesus’ disciples is something that God wants to happen to us also.
It is a gift that God wants to give us, and will give us, if we but open our hearts in prayer to God and in loving service to one another.
And so today’s gospel holds out a special invitation to each one of us.
It invites us to set aside time each day for prayer, in which we open our hearts to God should God wish to enter them in this way.
It also invites us to open our hearts to one another in loving service, as the young mother did should God wish to enter them in this way.
If we do this, if we accept the invitation that God extends to us in today’s gospel, then we too can expect to hear the words that Jesus heard on the mountain: “This is my son.’’ “This is my daughter.’’
And at that moment we too will become aware of another world. We too will come face-to-face with a reality that we never imagined existed. We too will experience a moment of grace, which, in God’s providence, will be one of the most decisive moments of our life.
Series III 2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18; Philippians 3:17–4:1; Luke 9:28b–36
Graced moments There are times in our lives when God’s grace seems to shines down on us in a tangible way.
Peter said to [Jesus], “Master, how good it is that we are here!” Luke 9:33
Adisturbed man was standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Italy. He was so disturbed and depressed that he was contemplating suicide.
Just then he heard music so beautiful that he became startled. He looked around to see where it was coming from.
There at the entrance of a nearby cave he saw a barefoot boy playing a harmonica.
The sound of the beautiful music and the sight of the innocent boy touched him profoundly and deeply.
Suddenly he realized that there was a lot of beauty and goodness in the world.
The man said later that the barefoot boy, playing the harmonica, was a gift from God. It inspired him and gave him the grace and the strength to go on and not give up. That story gives us an insight into how Peter, James, and John must have felt when they saw Jesus transfigured in today’s Gospel.
Moments before, they too were disturbed and depressed. For a few days earlier, Jesus had bluntly told them that he was going to suffer much at the hands of the leaders of Israel.
He also told them that they too would suffer much.
No doubt this was one of the reasons why Jesus took them up the mountain. He saw how his words had disturbed and confused them.
In any event, while Jesus was praying in their presence, “his face changed its appearance, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Luke 9:29
[A] cloud appeared and covered them with its shadow. . . . A voice said from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen listen to him!” Luke 9:34–35
And suddenly, like the man standing on the cliff, they too were transformed by what they saw and heard.
The disciples never forgot that moment as long as they lived.
Years later, Peter described it in one of his letters. He said: With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there . . . when the voice came to [Jesus]. . . .
We ourselves heard this voice . . . on the holy mountain. 2 Peter 1:16–18
And so, as the faith of the man on the cliff was strengthened and transformed by what he saw and heard, so the faith of the disciples was strengthened and transformed by what they saw on the holy mountain.
In a similar way, in today’s first reading, Abraham’s faith was strengthened and transformed by what he saw and heard as he stood under the star-filled sky.
Theologians sometimes refer to such experiences as “moments of grace.”
They are blessed moments when for a split second the wall separating heaven and earth seems to dissolve before our eyes and God’s glory shines down on us, filling us with new strength and new hope.
That brings us to our own lives. Most of us have experienced similar moments in our own lives. More often than not, these moments came upon us suddenly and unexpectedly.
And more often than not, they came at a time in our lives when we needed them most.
Here we need to keep in mind that we cannot merit such moments. We cannot win them. We cannot choreograph them into our lives.
At best, we can only pray and keep our hearts open to them. If God wishes to give them to us, well, that’s up to God.
And when God does give them, we should simply rejoice and give thanks for them as the disciples and Abraham did in today’s readings.
Finally, more often than not, God gives us such moments to prepare us for some work that he wants us to do just as he gave them to the disciples and Abraham for this purpose.
In our case, it may not be something great and far-reaching, as in the case of the disciples and Abraham.
Rather, it will be something more like what we ask for in the prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.