Pope Francis, in this week’s Spiritual Reflection, tells us that Jesus chose Peter, James, and John “according to his plan of love,” to accompany him up the high mountain. There, above the noise of the villages below, Jesus is transfigured. He appears with Moses and Elijah. Moses, who led the Chosen People out of Egypt, that place of slavery, represents the Law. Elijah, who proclaimed and prepared for the coming of the Messiah, and who was taken aloft in a whirlwind, represents all the prophets. Now, here before the eyes of the three astonished disciples, Jesus is revealed as a New Moses who will lead us out of slavery to sin, and as the very Messiah long awaited by the prophets. His divinity is revealed on his face which “shone like the sun” and through his clothes which “became white as light.”
Peter, despite his awe at the glorious vision of Jesus transfigured, is still able to converse with him, saying, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” His suggestion to erect tents is rooted in the traditions of the Old Testament, especially the days when the Ark of the Covenant was kept in a tent or “tabernacle.” The voice of the Father reveals to them that something new has arrived, the very Presence of God, not under a tent but in Jesus himself: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Peter, James, and John have begun to realize that they have been brought deeper into the reality of who Jesus is and they are “very much afraid.” Jesus urges them not to be afraid – not to be afraid of who he has revealed himself to be, and not to be afraid of the voice of the Father, confirming his identity. Instead they should “rise,” rise to a new level of understanding and a new way of living as disciples. It is time for them to allow the divine light of Christ and the voice of God to penetrate them more deeply. The old covenant is past, the new is before them. It is time to grow in faith in the One they have seen with their eyes, Jesus Christ the Son of God.
As they come down the mountain Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about this until his Resurrection. In obedience they wait while they ponder the mysterious vision in their hearts. But it will not be long before they will deny him and abandon him during his Passion. This is a sobering Lenten lesson – no matter how beautifully, deeply, or clearly Jesus has revealed himself to us, while we live here below, we are still capable of denying him and abandoning him in a moment of doubt and fear.
In reflecting on the Transfiguration, the Church invites us to learn from Abraham, our father in faith, who in the first reading is addressed by the Lord as Abram. He hears the Lord tell him to “go forth from the land of [his] kinsfolk.” He listens, trusts, and obeys. Everything the Lord tells him is to take place in an unknown future, in an unknown place, in an unknown way: “I will show you…. I will make of you… I will bless you….” His prompt response to these vast yet imprecise promises of the Lord is described very simply: “Abram went as the LORD directed him.” He walked by faith and not by sight (cf. 2 Cor 5:7) – a beautiful example and Lenten instruction on prompt obedience of faith.
The second reading gives us our marching orders: “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Walking by faith is not a matter of making progress by our own strength, “according to our works.” Rather it is to live by God’s plan of love, “according to his own design.” He gives us the grace we need to persevere in our journey “down from the mountain” of the Transfiguration and up Mount Calvary with Jesus. The “strength that comes from God” is what makes it possible for us to take our rightful place in his beautiful plan of love. We journey with our eyes of faith fixed on the promise of a glorious future, eternal life with the Blessed Trinity, where we will see God face to face, shining like the sun. Between then and now, as we begin this Second Week of Lent, we rely on grace as we observe our Lenten disciplines with renewed vigor.
Walking in the footsteps of Abraham, how do I listen, trust and obey the voice of the Lord? What fears do I have as I journey down from the mountain of Transfiguration to the mountain of Calvary? As Jesus is always revealing his love and mercy to me, what is my inner response?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.