I wonder why the Catholic Church chooses this gospel account every 2nd Sunday in Lent. We always hear the reading of the Transfiguration, the glorious account of the divine glory of God being revealed in the person of Jesus. It is amazing – so amazing that we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration every August 6th; we have been doing so for 800 years or so. Our Christian brothers and sisters proclaim this gospel on the Sunday before Lent. That also makes some sense to me because it is from this point in the story that Jesus will head straight to Jerusalem, culminating in Passion Week, fulfilling exactly what Jesus told them: he would be raised from the dead after suffering. Jesus’ words point to the crucifixion, just as Lent begins to point us to Good Friday. Reading the Transfiguration immediately before Lent gets us ready. But why the 2nd Sunday in Lent? But why proclaim this gospel twice in the same liturgical year?
I think it must be that there is something the Church wants us to consider anew, apart from the Feast day celebration, something that is deeply Lenten. I think there are several possibilities but let me just share one with you this morning. I want to focus on Peter’s response. There are lots of commentaries that offer poor Peter couldn’t see the forest for the trees. There is likely some truth there – his enthusiasm blinded him to a wider possibility than building three tents. Should we be surprised that Peter’s response is like looking at a light bulb and going blind instead of looking around the room and understanding what the light from the bulb reveals?
In last week’s gospel, the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, I offered that there were three lessons to be learned: (1) we do not chose our wildernesses in this life, we are often driven into them, (2) the wilderness can be long but we must ever remember we are beloved of God, and (3) there are always angels in the wilderness. That is a framework for the Lenten journey. It is what St. Mark warned us right before the Transfiguration account as Jesus “the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Mk 8) You don’t get to choose – you get to follow. You get to follow right off the mountain top, back down the mountain.
Jesus came back down. Down to where the rest of the disciples are, down to where we are, down to the challenges of life “here below,” down to the problems and discomforts and discouragements that are part and parcel of our life in this world, down to the wildernesses of this life. The ones unbidden and unwelcomed. And there to understand what light from the Transfiguration reveals, to be reminded of who we are and whose we are, and to discover what angels are there in the wilderness.
If the Transfiguration calls us to “look around the room” to see what the Light of God reveals, down here in the wilderness far from the mountain top, what is it you see? There are many possibilities. It could be a call to make sure you are on the right Lenten journey, reflecting on your life before God, taking advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and making room for God in your life – a very personal vision.
This year, my “looking around the room” led in a different direction, a different set of thoughts and reflections. Moses led the people Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness, not of his own choosing, but in following the Word of God. Moses was the ministering angel to the fathers, mothers, children, and families struggling to move from slavery to freedom – ever encouraging them and reminding them of who they are and whose they are. They are the beloved of God, his chosen people.
Elijah was the prophet sent, as were all the prophets, to remind Israel who they were. They had been slaves escaping lives of desperation and death, lives without hope. They were and are beloved of God. They are the people to whom much has been given and of whom much is expected. They are the people who will be judged, here in the promised land, on how they treat the widow, the orphan, the alien, and the stranger among them. The prophet is always a Lenten call, a call to our better selves.
What does the light of the Transfiguration reveal down here in the world? This Lent, my thoughts and ruminations led me to ask, whose angel am I called to be? Who are people seeking to escape lives of desperation and death? Whose lives are lacking hope? Who are the fathers, mothers, children, and families that call out for our help? I am reminded, we are the beloved of God to whom much has been given and of whom much is expected.
Here in Tampa, the nation, and in the world, we do not lack for answers to those questions. May your Lenten reflection lead you to become that ministering angel as God calls. Among your many options, Bishop Parkes, the Franciscan Friars, and Pope Francis are asking that you make your angelic voice heard on Monday, February 26th, for the children and families of immigrants and refugees. Your voice is critical to help the nearly 1.8 million Dreamers, young people who were brought into the United States by their parents as children. They may face deportation proceedings as soon as March 6th unless Congress reaches a bi-partisan deal to protect them. Bishop Parkes of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and your own Franciscan Friars urge you to be part of this “call to action.” Our website, front page, has information on how you can be involved.
As I said, here in Tampa, the nation, and in the world, we do not lack for answers to the questions I have posed. When you look “around the room” in the light of Jesus’ glory, what do you see? The aftermath of the Parkland, Fl. high school shooting may be your call to action. Our parish’s outreach to the poor may be your call to action: Hands of Hope or St. Vincent de Paul. What do you see?
So, why do we proclaim the Transfiguration here on this 2nd Sunday in Lent? To remember, Jesus came back down. Down to where we are, down to the challenges of life “here below,” down to the problems and discomforts and discouragements that are part and parcel of our life in this world, down to the wildernesses of this life. The ones unbidden and unwelcomed. So that we might understand what the light from the Transfiguration reveals this year, to be reminded of who we are and whose we are, and to discover we are called to be angels right here in this wilderness.