My Dear friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit as we delve deeper into this Lenten season. One of my favorite plot schemes in modern television and movies happens when a character is faced with a future version of himself coming back to give him guidance. This plot scheme is a staple of the Science Fiction industry, of which, I hate to admit, I am an addict. I like the plot scheme because it makes me wonder when I would return to my former self to intervene. Think about it from your own life. Is there something you’ve done that you would like to go back and witness or something you did you wish you could go back and change. I could go back and stop myself from being hit by that car when I was a kid or go back and watch my priesthood ordination. I think the hardest thing to do would be to pick the point that I would want to go back to.
In today’s gospel, Jesus chooses right now to reveal something to his disciples. We’re at seventeen out of twenty eight chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, a long time away from the crucifixion, and Jesus reveals to his disciples a glimpse of himself as Messiah. The glimpse is eerily similar to an incident involving Moses in the Old Testament. In chapter thirty four of Exodus, Moses and two of his associates go up a mountain and leave the rest of the Israelites at the foot of the mountain. While there, Moses’ face shines white while reflecting the glory of God and the law is revealed to him. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus face was, likewise, changed along with his clothes. The biggest difference is that, whereas Moses was reflecting the glory of God, Jesus was the glory of God. His face shines and his clothes shine as well. He is the light, not the reflection of that light. And, to underscore this difference, Moses and Elijah stand beside him to represent the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is showing that he has been the light guiding the Jewish people to salvation all along.
Each year that we read this reading, I think to myself; wouldn’t this be more suitable during Easter? Lent is supposed to be a sad time, a time of mortification. Shouldn’t our readings focus us on sad things? The closest thing to something sad you can experience in the Transfiguration is how impetuous Peter behaves. Rather than simply take in what is happening, Peter feels like he has to interject something. “Let us make tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” In some ways, Peter acts like the guy who tries to steal the spotlight from an otherwise incredible evening. And yet, Peter is actually getting the point of the exercise. One of the Jewish Holidays that Jesus and the Apostles participated in was called Succoth. It was a holiday reminding the Jewish people that God met Moses in a tent and that he called them to live in tents for forty days and forty nights while on their way to the Promised Land. Peter’s suggestion, then, fits in perfectly. He recognizes that Jesus, as Messiah, should be in a tent similar to the tent of meeting. Peter didn’t realize that this vision he, James, and John were sharing simply wasn’t going to last long enough for any such construction. Instead, as at Jesus baptism, we have the image of the trinity as the voice of God overshadows the son through the Sprit-filled cloud which declares Jesus as the Son.
We are now two and a half weeks into Lent. For me, this is the time when my spiritual practices begin to waver. I may have slipped up and had a burger on a Friday by accident or forgot to allow enough time to get my entire holy hour in or I look over at unmade rice bowl still sitting where I threw it after Ash Wednesday mass. I tend to feel tempted to give up. I think that’s why we have this image of the Transfiguration in the middle of Lent. Sure it’s happy. But there’s nothing that says Lent has to be a miserable time of suffering. Lent should be a time of renewal, a time to shed the things that weigh us down in our journey toward God. Perhaps the best thing that we can do is do what Jesus and his inner circle did: Go away to a deserted place and open ourselves to the presence of God to allow our hearts to be transfigured so that we can renew our Lenten commitment.