Friday, March 2, 2007

Second Sunday of Lent Year C: Transfiguration

Mt. Everest, transfiguration place
of great mountain climbers
photo grab:

Here's my commentary on the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent Year C, Jesus' Transfiguration.

The Text: Luke 9:28-36
28 About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.
29 While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
33 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.
34 While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." 36 After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.


Mountain Climbing

When the three Filipino mountain climbers came down from Mount Everest, it was clear they were no longer the same persons as before. They have been "transfigured" by their climbing and beholding the earth’s highest mountain.

Not so with the three disciples Peter, John and James. Their experience of mountain climbing and beholding the "glory" of earth’s highest Lord has not left them "transfigured". When they come down from the mountain, Peter denies Jesus three times (Lk 22:34), the brothers James and John want to satisfy their naked ambition to share in the "glory" of Jesus (Mk 10:37).

Note that Jesus' transfiguration is meant for them (Luke 9:35).

Tent Building
No wonder, Peter attempts to fix the experience by suggesting to make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. In Ancient Near East, the homes of gods and goddesses are in far away mountains and in tents. But Luke makes it a point that Peter does not know what he was saying (v. 33). Luke has Stephen tell us clearly that "The Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands" (Acts 7:48-50).

Moses and Elijah
The presence of two Old Testament figures, Moses and Elijah is interesting. These two men are considered prophets not in the classical sense (not in sense of the "writing" prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.). What’s the connection among the three? The key is found in the last prophetic book of the Old Testament, in the book of the Prophet Malachi (4:4-5):

4Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

As Jesus goes up to the mountain to confirm his mission from God, so do Moses and Elijah who go up to Mount Horeb (1 Kgs 19; Exod 34).

The three are said to be talking of Jesus' "exodus" (departure, v. 31) that is about to be "fulfilled" (Greek plērōō) in Jerusalem. At his ascension, Jesus tells his disciples that "It was necessary to fulfill everything about me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets and the Psalms" (Lk 24:44). We can say that Jesus’ "exodus" (the paschal mystery) is the climax of God’s salvific plan from long ago.

Transfiguration and Agony in the Garden
All three Synoptic gospels carry this story of Jesus’ Transfiguration (see Mt 7:1-8; Mk 9:2-8). But only Luke reports that the transfiguration is in the context of prayer. What would have Jesus' prayed for?

Because of the themes of prayer, solitude, mountain, the presence of the three disciples Peter, John and James who are in deep asleep, and the talk of Jesus' passion, scholars see a parallel story in Jesus’ agony in the garden (see Lk 22:39-46). In the Mount of Olives, Jesus' prayer was:

"Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done."

Note that this prayer has similarities with the "Our Father".

It thus makes sense that the story of transfiguration becomes a story in the season of Lent. And we who are privileged to witness to this "glory" are also invited to be "transfigured" into it-- unlike Peter, John, and James.

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