Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 9:28b-36

“For a moment Jesus discloses His divine glory” in His Transfiguration (Catechism paragraph 555), evoking the theophanies, or manifestations of God, in the Old Testament.

Through the presence of the cloud, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and its setting on a mountain, the Transfiguration calls to mind, and yet transcends, these earlier divine manifestations to the people of Israel.

“In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, now obscure, now luminous, reveals the living and saving God, while veiling the transcendence of His glory” (697).

“Christian tradition has always recognized that God’s Word allowed Himself to be seen and heard in these theophanies, in which the cloud of the Holy Spirit both revealed Him and concealed Him in its shadow” (707).

In the Old Testament, “Elijah, like Moses before him, hides in a cleft of the rock until the mysterious presence of God has passed by” (2583). In the New Testament, with the Word made flesh in Jesus, God manifests Himself in a radically new way.

Hence “only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of Him Whom they sought; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in the face of Christ” (2583).

Question for reflection: What leads me to reflect upon the majesty of God?

Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel – Mark 9:2-10

The Transfiguration is rich in meaning on several levels, beginning with its timing. Christ’s divine glory was made manifest during the Jewish Feast of Sukkoth. Commemorating Israel’s time of wandering in the desert after the Exodus, living in tents (“sukkoth”), this feast had messianic overtones: the Jewish people believed that it foreshadowed the coming age of the Messiah.

Jesus fulfills this hope, as Benedict XVI observes:

Indeed, the Lord has pitched the tent of His body among us and has thus inaugurated the messianic age…Jesus is the holy tent above whom the cloud of God’s presence now stands.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 315-16.

The presence of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration demonstrates Jesus’ fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. They represent the Law and the Prophets, which proclaimed the Messiah’s coming. Although Moses and Elijah had encounters with God in the Old Testament, “only on the mountain of the Transfiguration” did they “behold the unveiled face of Him Whom they sought” – in Christ (Catechism paragraph 2583).

Moreover, the Transfiguration gives us a glimpse of the Holy Trinity.

As St. Thomas Aquinas noted, “The whole Trinity appeared: the Father in the voice; the Son in the man; the Spirit in the shining cloud” (quoted in paragraph 555).

Question for reflection: In what ways do I listen to the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent: Gospel – Matthew 17:1-9

The Transfiguration

Last Sunday, we toiled along with Jesus undergoing temptation in the desert; in this Sunday’s Gospel, we are uplifted by His dazzling Transfiguration.

Pope Benedict XVI has commented on this abrupt transition from the depths to the heights:

Considered together, these episodes anticipate the Paschal Mystery: Jesus’ struggle with the tempter preludes the great final duel of the Passion, while the light of his transfigured Body anticipates the glory of the Resurrection.

On the one hand, we see Jesus, fully man, sharing with us even temptation; on the other, we contemplate him as the Son of God who divinizes our humanity.

Thus, we could say that these two Sundays serve as pillars on which to build the entire structure of Lent until Easter, and indeed, the entire structure of Christian life, which consists essentially in paschal dynamism: from death to life.

Angelus of February 17, 2008.

Blessed John Paul II commented on another kind of dynamism inherent in this passage – though we experience joy on the mountaintop, and glimpse our future glory in the radiant Christ, we don’t have the luxury of staying there:

We, pilgrims on earth, are granted to rejoice in the company of the transfigured Lord when we immerse ourselves in the things of above through prayer and the celebration of the divine mysteries.

But, like the disciples, we too must descend from Tabor into daily life where human events challenge our faith.

On the mountain we saw; on the paths of life we are asked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel which illuminates the steps of believers.

Homily of August 6, 1999.

Question: When have I had a “mountaintop experience” in my spiritual life?

Jesus and Israel

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 554-94:

  • Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, as underscored by His Transfiguration; when His divine glory is revealed on the mountain, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets.
  • Explicitly Messianic imagery surrounds Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, e.g., His riding on a donkey, the people spreading their cloaks before Him, their linking Him to David amid shouts of “Hosanna.”
  • But even while fulfilling prophecy, Jesus at times contradicted conventional wisdom and popular expectations, and this caused conflict.
  • Jesus disavowed worldly power: far from being a political-hero Messiah, He explained to the shocked Apostles that He must instead suffer and die.
  • Jesus taught with His own divine authority, revealing the full meaning of the precepts of the Law – the call to total conversion of heart.
  • By transforming the prevailing interpretation of the Law, Jesus sparked controversy with a number of Jewish religious authorities.
  • Another flashpoint of contention was Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath; some judged that He violated the Law by “working,” but Jesus emphasized that liberating people from the bondage of illness showed the true meaning of the Sabbath rest.
  • Some Jewish religious leaders were also scandalized by Jesus’ forgiving sins; because only God can do that, they thought that Jesus was committing blasphemy by making Himself equal to God.
  • Similarly, Jesus upset the Temple establishment when He drove out the merchants and moneylenders; He also went on to identify His own Body with the Temple, thus describing Himself as God’s new dwelling place among people.
  • In this way Jesus revolutionized the idea of divine worship, henceforth centered on Christ Himself, and no longer on the Temple, whose impending destruction He prophesied.

Live Your Faith

Jesus’ teaching still contradicts what popular culture would have us believe, and His words resound to shake us out of a false sense of complacency.

We are called to complete dedication to Christ, not half-hearted service when it’s convenient for us. Are we conformed to Christ in every circumstance of our lives, or do we tend to hold part of ourselves back?