Reflection by Fr Pat Hogan, Holy Family Church, Southill, Limerick
WORD OF GOD AND SALESIAN LIFE by Juan José Bartolomé
Second Sunday of Lent Year A – Lectio divina on Mt 17,1-9
When he had told the disciples of his forthcoming death (Mt 16,21-23) and let them know what was involved in following him (Mt 16,24-28), Jesus allowed only three of them to know his true identity, hidden until this point in time. While the glory of God shines in his face and he converses with the great prophets of the history of salvation, God covers all and speaks to all. He declares himself the Father of Jesus and he imposes a command. The three were still frightened by what they heard, but Jesus wakens them, and they return to life with their Lord. He, surprisingly, commands them to keep silent and say nothing of what they know about him until after he has risen. Feeling good in the presence of the Lord is not enough to make one a good companion. Jesus allows himself to be known better by those of whom he will demand most. However, moments of intimacy and feeling good are rare. The disciple will have to remain permanently in a state of attentive listening to God and contemplation of his Son.
At that time: 1 Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking, when behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”
I. Read: Understand what the text is saying and how it says it
The episode happens six days after Peter’s confession of faith, and the rebuke he earned for not accepting the fate that awaited his Lord. We must not forget: only three of the disciples were to know who Jesus really was, and what his end would be. Only those who know how he will end can see Jesus as he really is. It is not given freely and it is not given to all.
The emphasis in the account is not on the event – the transfiguration of Jesus – but on the words: the words of Peter who expresses his feelings, the word of God who declares himself Father and commands obedience to his Son, and the words of Jesus who brings his disciples back to normality and to obedience. The transfiguration is described as an amazing change in Jesus’ personal appearance and as an encounter with his new companions – Moses, the legislator, and Elijah, the prophet. The presence of Moses and Elijah is more decisive than the change in the appearance of Jesus, and the Word of God which reveals the hidden identity of Jesus is more important than the dialogue with Moses and Elijah.
Seeing a splendid Jesus in such wonderful company makes Peter feel good, so much so that he says he is willing to work for the three of them. The more they are together, the better Peter feels. Peter appears generous, but he is not really so. He wants to hold on to his sense of well-being at all costs, even if it means personal sacrifice.
The presence of God is made known, not so much by the cloud that enveloped them but by his word. Not only does he declare Jesus his beloved Son, but God states publicly, in front of Moses, Elijah and the three disciples, that he is a Loving Father. All must see Jesus as God sees him, and love him as God loves him. This new way of seeing Jesus – discovering God as his Father – has consequences that are expressed and imposed: obedience to the beloved Son of God; God is a loving Father; the disciples are obedient followers.
If God draws near – and he always draws near through his Word – man fears death. Closeness to God becomes a source of fear. But Jesus, and he alone, by his word gives his disciples courage and tells them to stand up.
When we know who Jesus really is, we have a secret to be guarded in our hearts, for a considerable time. Contemplation comes before obedience and we need to practise both in our daily lives.
II. Apply the text to life: what does this text say to me?
Not all who have followed Jesus up to now are invited to climb the mountain. Jesus allows himself to be seen in glory only by those he chooses. Knowing Jesus as God is a grace that he alone gives. There is a second call not given to all who are called. Why? The gospel text does not tell us why, but it does tell us where that second call leads those who receive it – apart, with him, on the mountain. Is there anything I can do to ensure that I will be invited to see Jesus as God? Do I allow myself to be led apart, where he wants to go and not where I might prefer? Will I climb a mountain if that is the only way to follow him? Could it be that I cannot contemplate him and enjoy his presence, because I do not feel like going alone with him to a place of solitude? What must I do to hear the call of Jesus to follow him and be alone with him?
Feeling good in the company of Jesus is a rare privilege given only to chosen disciples. The moments of intimacy and joy are always too short for the followers of Jesus, but they must suffice for us to become his companions on the way of the cross. While I follow Jesus, which do I desire more – to feel good in his company or to get to know God better? Which do I seek – my own wellbeing or the will of God? Why does my following of Jesus not lead me to contemplate his glory? And why, if his company attracts me, am I not able to feel God around me? Why am I not able to hear his word?
God allows himself to be heard by those who are happy to be with Jesus. Those who have time and eyes to see Jesus, will have heart and ears to hear God. This could be the reason for the spiritual poverty in which I live. I follow Jesus but I don’t get enthusiastic about him because I am more interested in my own feeling good than I am in listening to the Father. This is why I am not totally captivated by Jesus and not able to hear the Father. In letting himself be seen in his glory it was not Jesus’ sole intention, nor indeed his main intention, to make his disciples happy. He did not lead them up the mountain for them to feel good, but for them to hear the Father. Jesus wanted to lead three of his disciples out of their routine, away from their ordinary occupations, to concentrate on God. They heard his voice when they were alone, full of joy, with Jesus who was transfigured. They went up the mountain with him, because they were chosen by him. They were picked out, because they were already accompanying him on the roads of Galilee. In other words, they already had him as their primary occupation. They first contemplated Jesus and then heard the voice of God. It is hardly logical then for us to lament that we cannot hear the voice of God, if his Son does not occupy our days and our hearts. How can God speak to someone whom he does not find with his Son? God has nothing to say to us if we do not devote ourselves to the contemplation of Jesus. To contemplate him we need to go with him wherever he goes, to the mountain, to the sea, to Calvary.
God says two things to those who contemplate Jesus: He is his loving Father and Jesus enjoys his favour. Secondly, they are to obey his Son. It might seem that these two statements of God have little in common, but not so. Precisely because God loves his Son so much, he wants him to be contemplated, followed and obeyed. Listening to Jesus is not optional for those who know that he is the Son of God. Those who do not know who Jesus is before God will not know that he must be obeyed. Those who do not contemplate Jesus will not know that he is the beloved Son of God. Could it be that it is because we do not accept Jesus as God sees him and as God loves him, that we do not listen to what God says to us and what he wants of us? Am I convinced that to hear the voice of God, I must contemplate Jesus?
We become afraid when God draws near to us. Jesus can enable us to stand up again and he can reassure our hearts. Only he can take away our fears. Only he can save us from fearing God. If that is the case, why do we not stand up and overcome our anxieties? Why, if we hear his voice, do we still feel nervous about returning to life with others? When we have contemplated Jesus in prayer, do we carry in our hearts a secret to be guarded, a feeling of wellbeing, and an inexpressible joy that we would like to preserve forever?
We should not forget that the transfiguration of Jesus was an isolated incident, an exceptional experience that lasted only a moment. Jesus did not allow his disciples to remain on the mountain where they had lived the most beautiful moments of their lives. After this brief rest on their journey they came back down to the plain and to daily life. Those who follow Jesus will sometimes experience joy and a sense of feeling good, but these are always brief momentary sensations, until, at the end of the journey, Jesus becomes all for us. While we still have the possibility of denying him, of failing to remain faithful, of losing him by seeking happiness elsewhere, the joy that comes from hearing God and seeing his Son is not secure. The memory of the happy moments spent with him can help us to imagine the joy that awaits us. Those who catch even a fleeting glimpse of the transfigured Jesus can look forward to an eternity of contemplation and fascination, of joy and recognition. Just as we cannot doubt his willingness to be transfigured before us, if we remain his faithful followers, we can be certain that we will have an eternity to rest in contemplation of Jesus and enjoy his presence forever. Knowing that this is the reward that awaits us make fidelity in this life easier and makes happiness possible.
III. Pray the text. Desire God’s will: What do I say to God?
Take me with you, O Lord, and let me climb the mountain. I would love to see you as you are, and stop imagining you as I would like you to be. Make me hear the Father’s voice so that I may come to know you as the Father knows you, even though I am afraid when I hear his voice.
Let me contemplate your face and lose myself in you. May I be transfigured by your beauty. May your light invade me and your love transform me, so that I can go through life radiating You to the world.