This is the 2nd Sunday of Lent and each year on this day our gospel is taken from one of the accounts of the Transfiguration – this year we take it from Luke. It is the same gospel we hear every August 6th on the Feast of the Transfiguration. This year I began to wonder why we proclaim this gospel on this Sunday. Last week, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus’ temptation in the desert – well, that seems like a perfectly good start to the Lenten season. But why read the Transfiguration – why here on this 2nd Sunday of Lent? Is there a meaning, particularly Lenten, that we should hear and understand – apart from the meaning and message we would consider on August 6th?
This gospel comes from Luke 9, which in its way is the lynchpin of Luke’s gospel account. Literally from this mountain top, the story is all downhill – all the way to Jerusalem and the cross. Nonetheless as it says in Luke 9:51, “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” Or more literally “he set his face towards Jerusalem.” He was committed and determined to complete what his Father had determined as the plan of redemption. Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem – the certainty of death and the promise of resurrection – and a great deal of frustration, suffering, weariness, disappointment and loneliness along the way. Last week’s gospel ends with the comment that the devil departed from Jesus awaiting a more favorable time. It seems to me that this road to Jerusalem offers a most favorable time for Satan to renew his temptation for Jesus to take another way in life, one apart from his Father’s plan.
What about us? As I said last week about temptation, it is a life-time war with frontal attacks, attrition, lots of misdirection and on-going psychological warfare. Pray as we might, “Lord, remove this temptation from my life,” temptation is not going away. We are in a lifelong battle that has no clear battle lines. It has only moments of courage. Courage like Jesus showed on his journey to Jerusalem. He is absolutely determined to get there despite the threat of Herod’s violence, plotting by the religious authorities, or his knowledge that he will meet his death in Jerusalem.
It seems to me there are at least two kinds of courage. One is the immediate and situational courage of the person who, in a moment of extreme need, summons the courage to face an imminent danger. This is the courage of the by-stander who jumps into a raging river to save someone struggling to swim at great risk to him or herself. Courage is not born in that moment, it is not just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing but ultimately is a display of character, a culmination of action and beliefs developed and exercised over the course of one’s life leading them to act courageously in any given moment.
There is a second kind of courage as well, this one not displayed in a single moment or act but in anticipating a significant, daunting, or even frightening challenge and not turning away from it but rather meeting it head on. This is also a matter of character – character that has emerged from the willingness and experience of facing fears and shouldering burdens. Character that is being forged in the very moment of accepting challenges and responsibilities that one could avoid.
I do not doubt that Jesus was tempted to turn from the road before him. Nonetheless, he will keep to the road appointed and meet his death. This commitment to embrace his dark and difficult destiny for the sake of humanity is the very embodiment of this second kind of courage.
It is the courage that allows one to live and not just hunker down awaiting the inevitable end. Jesus will fully live his mission all along the journey, taking time along the way to heal those who are ill, to teach his disciples and the crowds who follows him, to engage his opponents, to bless children, to restore to the community those who have been pushed to the side, to liberate those held captive to spirits that would rob them of abundant life, to share stories about God’s unending love, to argue for persistence in prayer and the pursuit of justice, and to lament all those who refuse God’s embrace and cling instead to the protections and prizes of the world. It takes courage to face death in Jerusalem, but also courage to fully live life from the Transfiguration to Calvary. All along the way are stories of courage.
What is the fuel of that courage? What enables one to walk the dark days and moments of life in the light of Christ? “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” Perhaps it is the light of that moment on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured. It is as St. Paul reminds the Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.”
What lies behind is the memory and promise of Christ on full display on that mountain top. What lies ahead is the promise of redemption, salvation, a life wholly complete – all fulfilled in Christ. What lies along the way is a journey of courage, fueled by the hope given to us on the mountain top.
This is the Lenten journey. This is the journey of life. There will be temptation, suffering, and voices telling you to turn from the path of holiness and hope. There will be memory of this gospel, stories of courage, and a fountain fullness of grace overflowing into your life.
There will always be the presence of Christ. So, fear not; have courage. Know the fullness of this life of grace this day and every day.