To go through life’s nadir at the foot of the mountain

Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18

God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am!" he replied. Then God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you." When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the LORD's messenger called to him from heaven, "Abraham, Abraham!" "Here I am!" he answered. "Do not lay your hand on the boy," said the messenger. "Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son." As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son. Again the LORD's messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said: "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing— all this because you obeyed my command."

Romans 8:31B-34

Brothers and sisters: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised— who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Mark 9:2-10

Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.

As we move toward the Holy Week, the figure looming larger and larger is that of the crucified Jesus on the cross. On this second Sunday of Lent, however, we celebrate a different figure of Jesus. Here He undergoes a metamorphosis, a revelation, a theophany. It is the Feast of the Transfiguration – a unique miracle among other miracles because it happens to Jesus Himself.

The long and difficult journey to Jerusalem is livened up by this wonderful experience on the mountaintop. Surrounded by heavenly splendor and conversing with Moses and Elijah who represent the Law and the Prophets, Jesus’ glory is magnified by a solemn witness, that of God Himself, “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to Him” (Mk 9:7). Inasmuch as Peter wants to capture that radiant moment, the moment is evanescent. In fact, any enlightenment that the three disciples received on the mountain seems dulled by the conversation they have with Jesus on the way down, “they continued to discuss what ‘to rise from the dead’ meant” (Mk 9: 9-10).

The transfiguration is a reminder that Jesus’ suffering and glorification are intertwined; that it is necessary for the Messiah to suffer and thus, enter into his glory (rf Lk 24:26). At the transfiguration, Peter’s impulsive response to keep Jesus, Moses and Elijah is understandable. The disciples are bewildered to behold the glorious face of Jesus. His is “the splendor before which every other light pales, and the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart” (St. John Paul II Vita Consecrata 1996 P.16). Indeed the beauty of Christ is forever joined to His sorrow. St. John Paul II explains later, “It is precisely on the Cross that the One who in death appears to human eyes as disfigured and without beauty, so much so that the bystanders cover their faces (cf Is 53:2-3), fully reveals the beauty of God’s love” (VC, P.24).

Glimpses and tastes of glory that once exhilarated the disciples can also exhilarate us. While it is human nature to desire comfort and embrace happiness, just as Peter says, “how good it is for us to be here!”, staying on the mountain is not the purpose of Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk 9:5). In order to attain eternal glory, Jesus and His disciples have to come down from the mountain and face the awaiting trial. As Christians, we, too, should not linger on the mountaintop but dare to go through life and meet its nadir at the foot of the mountain. We have to move on with Jesus, follow behind Him and listen to Him like the disciples did. Only then will we be able to share the glory that once shone and captivated the apostles on the mountain, on the day Jesus was transfigured.

Posted: February 28, 2021

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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