This coming Sunday marks the second Sunday in Lent (Year C). The gospel for this Sunday is the Lucan version of the Transfiguration found in Luke 9:28-36 (on the other side of this link in a full pdf of a gospel commentary on the reading.) The Transfiguration event is also described in Mt 17:1-9 and Mk 9:2-10 – readings that are traditionally proclaimed on the 2nd Sunday of Lent in their own respective liturgical years as well as on the Feast of the Transfiguration each August 6th. The location of the mountain is not given anywhere in the Gospels. Some have thought that it was a part of Mt. Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi, since the transfiguration occurs shortly after Peter’s confession there in Mark. On the other hand, since the time of Origen, the mountain has been identified as Mt. Tabor, near Nazareth, but the significance of the location may actually lie more in its parallel with the experience of Moses and Elijah on Mt. Sinai and Mt. Horeb.
The Lenten use of the reading, following the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert by the devil, jumps the Lucan orderly presentation of the gospel story. In fact, it jumps from the beginning of the Galilean Ministry to the end of the ministry accounts. Some of the ministry events in between are:
- Preaching in Nazareth
- Teaching and healing in Capernaum
- Calling and Forming the Disciples – includes cleansing a leper, healing the paralyzed, debates with scribes and Pharisees, calling of Levi
- Sermon on the Plain
- Miracles and healing – One greater than the prophets
- Parable of the Sower and the Seed / Gerasene demoniac / Jairus’ daughter
- Jesus’ commission of the Twelve for mission
- The feeding of the 5,000
- Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the Messiah
- Jesus’ first prediction of his passion, death, and resurrection
- The Transfiguration
And then Jesus turns towards Jerusalem.
Good to know, but what’s the Transfiguration doing here in Lent? Why, in the midst of this season of penance, with its sombre purple, does the Church present us with this image of Jesus’ garments becoming ‘glistening, intensely white as no fuller on earth could bleach them’ (Mk 9: 3)? Wouldn’t that fit better with the mood of Easter season, when the earth is bid to ‘be glad as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King,’ as we sing at the Easter Vigil? Indeed, many commentators on this episode in the Gospels do interpret it precisely as a vision of the risen Jesus, pointing forward either to his Resurrection, or even to his Second Coming. That still doesn’t tell us what this account of it is doing here on the second Sunday of Lent, though.
I think that, just as it was for the disciples who saw it before they witnessed all the events of Christ’s passion and death, it’s a sign of hope – a reminder for us of the goal of our Lenten journey. But the story of the sacrifice of Isaac (first reading) reminds us that it’s important how Jesus came to his risen glory – that seemingly pointless and incomprehensible road to death which we commemorate in this season. And that too is a sign of hope – a sign that God, as he did for Abraham and as he did most of all in Christ, can transform and give meaning to our lives even when they may seem pointless or consist in incomprehensible suffering: Jesus, whom God did not spare but gave up for us all (cf. Rm 8: 32), has shared in our humanity, shared in our suffering, shared even in our death, so that in those times of trial we too can hope to share in the glory he revealed to his disciples in his Transfiguration.
And of course, that hope for the future can transform – or, we might say, transfigure – our lives even now, shedding a different light on our difficulties and sorrows, for it enables us to share with St Paul the conviction that, ‘If God is for us, who is against us? … It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?’ (Rm 8: 31, 33)
- Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 9 of the New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 204-09
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 376-85
- Brian Stoffregen, “Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com
- Gregory Pearson OP