Homily for 2.24.13
Second Sunday in Lent
LUKE 9:28b-236 (see below)
The Lectionary Gospel reading for today, for this the second Sunday of Lent, takes us up the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and the inner circle of disciples -- Peter, James and John. Of course, this is a high moment in St. Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ identity, but what must be noted is how these events come on the heels of Jesus’ prediction of his own death.
He said, "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:22-23)
That is, Jesus’ earlier exposition of his coming state execution will directly inform and impact the events on the Mountain top with Moses and Elijah.
Eight days after Jesus’ passion prediction Luke tells us,
“Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.”
It is always stunning to me to read of the Master’s prayer life. So used are we to thinking of his over-powering divinity, that the prayer needs of the LORD seem somehow out of place, until we realize the depth and reality of his humanity.
But, Jesus is a man, a true human being.
This understanding offers the most stunning of all the Lenten movements, as we follow Jesus into the snare of the desert where he becomes weak, tempted, and vulnerable. But, think about it. What happened just prior to his desert sojourn of fasting and temptation?
His baptism and the voice of the Almighty.
Therefore, it is interesting to think about the Transfiguration, -- including the voice of the Almighty -- as maybe being more for Jesus’ benefit than for the disciples or for us.
MEETING MOSES AND ELIJAH
The text reads:
While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, both speak with Jesus about the exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
That is, this conversation concerns the same issue of Jesus’ earlier declaration concerning his passion and death. It is significant that Luke offers this scene to us, and especially that he uses the word, exodus. Certainly this is a pregnant word for our understanding of the moment. For, in that word we are afforded the confirmation of Jesus’ words and works as well as the continuity of Jesus’ message connecting Judaism and her Messiah.
Said differently, the appearance of the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) with Jesus points to him as the crux of both. That is, this moment drives us to the conclusion that the Messiah will fulfill both the heart of the law -- love GOD and neighbor, and the message of the prophets -- GOD himself will deliver his people from the exile of death.
To be sure, the heart of the law and the message of the prophets will take an unexpected twist in the person of Jesus, but both will be fulfilled, even if in an astonishing action that displays the law as the grace of GOD on the cross and the prophetic message spread open to include all peoples everywhere who repent.
JESUS MEETING THE FATHER ALMIGHTY AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
Notice also, how the text reads:
While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.
and then later
While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
The heart of the pericope is the description of how Jesus’ appearance changes and how he is seen in his glorious self. The glow of holiness and of divine authority become evident before the eyes of his followers. The Holy Spirit engulfs them in the form of the shadowing cloud. And, finally, the Almighty speaks his words words of affirmation:
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Here, as at the baptism, Jesus is acknowledged as being GOD’s anointed and chosen vessel of grace. Here, as at the baptism, Jesus is confirmed to all, and especially to himself, as GOD’s beloved Son. Here, as at the his desert temptation, we are pointed toward the horrific work of the cross that he faces. Here, we take away from the Transfiguration the truth that the God-head is directly involved in redemption, and that Jesus is at work accomplishing the vocation of the Father, and being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so.
MEETING JESUS IN A LENTEN TRANSFIGURATION
Finally, Peter’s suggestion that three places of worship be erected to honor Moses and Elijah and Jesus, is met with these words:
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Indeed, listen to him, for he is GOD’s final word of revelation.
As the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us with his opening words:
1 In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; 2 in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, 3 who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4)
Or, listen how St. Peter himself recalls this event:
16 We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, "This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)
Notice, St. Peter’s understanding of these events point not to the passion of the LORD, but to his powerful future appearing that closes history, that moment when his majesty will finally and for always be displayed to the world.
This is why the Lenten season is for us such a gift of life. Here we are privileged to see and acknowledge the LORD is all his glory. Here we are favored to be confronted by the reality of the one we follow, who is not only the baby of Bethlehem, but the King of Kings as well. Here we are given all we need to participate in the lenten practices of prayer, repentance and alms giving, for we know that the living LORD of glory has both called us to himself and called us to practice his life of true humanity.
A true humanity that must include nothing less than:
true prayer -- an ongoing relationship with GOD
true repentance -- an ongoing recognition of how far we fall short in this relationship
and true alms giving -- the sacrificial love of neighbor as we love ourselves.
Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.