LENT-II-B-Gen 22: 1-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mk 9:2-10
Dr. Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, tells a dramatic story about a woman who glimpsed the mystery of her unborn child. The young woman was seeking an abortion. She simply could not handle having a baby at this time. But she agreed to an ultrasound. When the baby appeared on the screen, the woman was amazed to see the perfectly formed body, the tiny legs and arms moving inside her womb. But the woman kept saying, "No, no, I have to have an abortion." Dr. Hartshorn felt sad. He knew that seventy-five percent of women who see an ultrasound decide to keep their baby - but that a quarter, nevertheless, still have the abortion. It seemed like this woman would be in that twenty-five percent. All of sudden, Dr. Hartshorn's assistant said, "Reach out and take your baby's hand." Dr. Hartshorn thought, "Oh, gosh, why is she saying that?" But the woman raised her hand and touched the monitor. As if by some divine cue, the baby stretched out his arm to the exact place of his mom's hand. On the screen his tiny fingers met hers. She kept her baby. There is a mystery inside each one of us - the mystery of the image of God. Today’s Gospel tells us how three of the apostles saw a glimpse, a tiny glimpse, of who Jesus was. That would transform them and sustain them through some dark moments following Jesus’ arrest.
The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to manifest Jesus’ divinity and to allow him to consult his Heavenly Father and ascertain His plan for His Son’s suffering, death and resurrection. God’s secondary aim was to make Jesus’ chosen disciples aware of his Divine glory, so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial. On the mountain, Jesus is identified by the Heavenly Voice as the Son of God. Describing Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Gospel gives us a glimpse of the Heavenly glory awaiting those who do God’s will by putting their trusting Faith in Him.
Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story about a ship that was in serious trouble in a storm. A passenger on that ship, defying orders, made his way to the pilot, who seeing the fear on the passenger's face gave him a smile of assurance. Relieved, the traveler returned to his cabin and said, "I have seen the face of the pilot. He smiled and all is well."
There are times in life when we need to see our pilot face-to-face. That's what happened in this mystical story that the Church calls the Transfiguration of Christ. Peter, James and John were there. Moses and Elijah showed up from the past. They have an experience that is mystical and out of this world.
Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush at Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:1-4). After his encounter with God, Moses' face shone so brightly that the people were frightened, and Moses had to wear a veil over his face (Exodus 34:29-35). The Jews believed that Moses was taken up in a cloud at end of his earthly life (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 4. 326). Elijah traveled for forty days to Mt. Horeb on the strength of the food brought by an angel (1 Kings 19:8). At Mt. Horeb, Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the glory of the Lord passed over him (1 Kings 19:9-18). Finally, Elijah was taken directly to Heaven in a chariot of fire without seeing death (2 Kings 2:11 -15). These representatives of the Law and the Prophets – Moses and Elijah - foreshadowed Jesus, who is the culmination of the Law and the Prophets. Both earlier prophets were initially rejected by the people but vindicated by God. This is what will happen to Jesus also.
The book of Exodus describes how God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from the cloud. God often made appearances in a cloud and the Jews generally believed that the phenomenon of the cloud would be repeated when the Messiah arrived. God’s words from the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; listen to him,” are similar to the words used by God at Jesus' baptism: “You are My beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” Mark 1:11). At the moment of Jesus’ death, a Roman centurion would declare, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (15:39). These words summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration, that on this mountain, God revealed Jesus as His Son -- His beloved -- the One in whom He is always well pleased and the One to whom we must listen.
Jesus did not stay on the mountain for long. He came down to the valley with his disciples where he started to work on the plan he knew that was his. We too cannot stay too long in our mountain top experiences. On the mountain we encounter our faith's heritage; in the valley, we encounter those who consider questions of faith as occasions for battle. On the mountain, the glory of God is revealed; in the valley, the power of sin and unbelief is revealed.
A little boy was out in his backyard, throwing a ball up in the air. An elderly passerby, not accustomed to such youthful delights, asked the boy what he was doing. He replied, “I am playing a game of catch with God. I throw the ball up in the air and he throws it back.”
I am in no position to comment on God’s ability to play ball, but I do know that whatever goes up must come down, said the man. “There may be exceptions, such as Charlie Brown’s kite! But as a rule, whatever goes up must come down. The process is so predictable that you could refer to it as a scientific law”. The same process applies to our religious lives. It is a good thing to “go up” to a great experience with God, but we will become greatly disillusioned if we do not remember that eventually we have to “come down” again.
In the valleys of life cross will be waiting for us. But we are assured of the Father’s love for us in our sufferings. Our sufferings are designed to strengthen us. Helen Keller says: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Let the feast of transfiguration give us the grace to cooperate with the grace of God with the assistance of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives by renewing them during Lent and to radiate the grace of the transfigured Lord around us by our Spirit-filled lives.