This coming Sunday is the 2nd Sunday in Lent during Lectionary Cycle A. The Lenten readings have their own pattern. Regardless of the Cycle, the reading of the 1st Sunday in Lent is one of the Temptation in Desert accounts. The account of the Transfiguration is proclaimed on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, while the following three Sundays each reveal something about the covenant or salvific mission of Jesus. The sixth Sunday is always the Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday account.

The “Transfiguration” is the traditional gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday in Lent and is taken from Matthew 17. Jesus and his disciples are no longer in Galilee – they have withdrawn to the area of Tyre and Sidon (15:21).  But they have not escaped on-going conflict with different sectors of secular and religious life.  Conflict is one of Matthew’s key themes which occur throughout the gospel. This key motif moves the plot and portrays the struggles involved in the advance of the Kingdom (cf. 11:12). At the outset of Matthew’s story, there was conflict between Herod the Great and the infant Messiah just born in Bethlehem (ch 2). John the Baptist announces Jesus and conflict arises between him and Israel’s religious leaders over genuine righteousness (3:7ff). Satan himself tries to tempt Jesus to gratify his human needs and accomplish his messianic mission in ways that were disobedient to the Father (4:1–11).

Once Jesus’ public ministry began, his teaching about righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount clashed with that of the religious leaders (5:20–6:18), and the people were quick to pick up on the contrast (7:28–29). This led to further, more intense controversies about the forgiveness of sins (9:1–8) and Jesus’ associating with sinners (9:9–13). His ministry of exorcism led to the Pharisees’ charges that he was collaborating with the devil (9:34; 12:22–24). Soon he had to warn his followers that their ministries would be attended with much opposition (10:16ff; cf. 24:9).

Many of the people who heard Jesus’ teaching and saw his miracles did not repent and follow him, and he denounced them for their unbelief (11:16–24). The rules of Sabbath observance occasioned a heated dispute (12:1–14); and after that, skeptical religious leaders with evil motives asked Jesus for a sign (12:38; cf. 16:1–4). Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom of Heaven also spoke of conflict engendered by varying responses to the message of the Kingdom (13:19–21, 38–39). Even the people in his own synagogue in Nazareth did not believe in his message (13:53–58). Jesus’ teaching about inner purity clashed with the Pharisaic tradition of ritual purity through washing hands before meals (15:1–20; cf. 16:5–12).

Yet Jesus draws the good from the conflict: he prepares his disciples for mission (Mt 10) and for leadership following his own eventual departure – and the conflict they will face during their ministry.  A key aspect of that preparation is that the disciples clearly know the identity of Jesus. This is made clear in Matthew 16:13-21 when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is…But who do you say that I am.”

With Jesus’ identity confirmed among the disciples, their formation continues. R.T. France refers to the section surrounding our gospel readings as “Private Ministry In Galilee: Preparing The Disciples” and outlines it as follows:

  1. Teaching on Jesus’ mission (16:21–17:27)
  2. First announcement of Jesus’ suffering and death (16:21–23)
  3. Discipleship will also involve suffering (16:24–28)

iii. A vision of Jesus’ glory (17:1–13)  our reading

  1. The power of faith (17:14–20)
  2. Second announcement of Jesus’ suffering and death (17:22–23)
  3. The question of the temple tax (17:24–27)
  4. Teaching on relationships among the disciples (18:1–35)
  5. True greatness (18:1–5)
  6. On stumbling-blocks (18:6–9)

iii. Care for the ‘little ones’ (18:10–14)

  1. ‘If your brother sins …’ (18:15–20)
  2. Forgiving personal offenses (18:21–35)

At the beginning of Mt 19, Jesus and the disciples return to Judea.

Image credit: Sunrise, Simon Berger, Pexels, CC
R.T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris  (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 265-68

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