Every year, on the Second Sunday of Lent, we reflect on one of the accounts of Jesus’ Transfiguration. This year we’ve been given Mark’s account for our reflection.
Six days before this dramatic vision, Peter had voiced his answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say that I am?” Without hesitation he declared, “You are the Messiah!” Jesus then revealed what it would mean to be the Messiah. It was an answer none of them wanted to hear, especially Peter. “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” He then laid out the conditions for them to be his disciples. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
His radical statements stunned the disciples. Popular opinion held that the Messiah would be a conquering hero who would defeat Israel’s enemies, and usher in Israel’s Golden Age. Jesus was preaching rejection, suffering and death – and a cross!
Jesus sensed their disillusionment, so he tried to reassure them. “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power.” They weren’t ready, however, to understand what he was telling them. So six days later Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up to a high mountain. There, “he was transfigured before them.”
He presented himself enveloped in divine light. The three disciples stood there, shocked, their eyes squinting. Then, they saw two other men emerging from the light, Moses and Elijah. They were separate, and at the same time, in a mystical harmony with Jesus. The whole history of Israel manifested itself to them. Moses had ratified the covenant between God and the Jewish people, and received the Commandments as the terms of that covenant. Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, who was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire, had returned, as had been predicted, to proclaim the day of fulfillment – the Messianic time!
Terrified, Peter began to babble something about building tents when the apparition expanded. The cloud, the shekinah, the divine manifestation that accompanied the Jewish people throughout their exodus, descended upon the mountain casting a shadow over them! Then, they heard it. It was the voice of God! “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
These three special disciples saw Jesus! They saw his humanity. They saw his divinity. They saw him in communion with all of Jewish history. They saw the Messiah!
Why do we read this passage at the beginning of Lent? It’s our yearly reminder that, following in the footsteps of our spiritual ancestors, we’re beginning our forty-day exodus journey. It’s the holy and awesome time when, as a community, we embark on a spiritual journey into the mystery of our redemption. It’s the time we stand at the foot of the mountain, see the lightning, and hear the thunder. It’s the time we re-read the prophecies. It’s the time we gaze into Jesus’ light. It’s the time we ask, “Who are you, Lord?” It’s the time we lift up our heads and listen for an answer.