This image of the Transfiguration of Our Lord reflects the Gospel message for the Second Sunday of Lent in which Father Garry Koch reminds faithful that "We cannot go to the mountain until we have been to the wilderness." Photo from Shutterstock.com
This image of the Transfiguration of Our Lord reflects the Gospel message for the Second Sunday of Lent in which Father Garry Koch reminds faithful that "We cannot go to the mountain until we have been to the wilderness." Photo from Shutterstock.com
Gospel reflection for Feb. 28, 2021, Second Sunday of Lent

While last week we were in the wilderness with Jesus, this week we stand with Jesus atop the mountain of the Transfiguration. Last week Jesus was alone, tempted by Satan and ministered to by the angels. This week, accompanied by the disciples Peter, James and John, Jesus encounters the great prophets Moses and Elijah.

In the awe of this encounter, Peter wants to stay atop this mountain. He immediately wants to build tents, reminiscent of the Feast of Sukkoth, and bask in the glory of being on the mountain. More than the sight of the magnificent vista of the valley below, being on the mountain signifies a sense of completion, of accomplishment, of having made it. Imagine, being on the mountain with Jesus, experiencing the Transfiguration, being in the presence of Moses and Elijah, and not yet having to go into the wilderness, without knowing of the Crucifixion.

For this reason, among many, Peter and the others cannot stay there. They have to come down from the mountain; Jesus must undergo the Passion and Death that waits him. Peter must undergo the trial of three times denying Jesus, and experience the sheer terror of knowing that Jesus has died on the Cross.

We cannot go to the mountain until we have been to the wilderness. Our entire journey of life, and particularly our journey of faith, it a constant trek from wilderness to the mountaintop. Along the way we pass through lush valleys, rolling hills, and sandy shores, but our ultimate goal is to reach the mountain top and be with the Lord. There, with fresh eyes and magnificent vistas, we discern the call to reverse course, to come down the mountain, and to engage the work of discipleship.

Having been to the top of the mountain does not take away from us the trauma of suffering, struggles with faith, or the struggles that come from living a life of steadfast discipleship. In some ways having been to the top of the mountain those challenges become even more acute. We know where we’ve been, we know where we want to lead others, and we know where we want to get back to, but the stumbling blocks along the way can be dissuading and, for some, so disruptive that they abandon the journey all together.

Last week in the wilderness we saw Jesus tempted by Satan. This week atop the mountain Jesus is tempted by Peter. While we certainly think of the wilderness as a place of temptation, for it is there that our deepest needs are exposed, we don’t think of the mountaintop as being a place of temptation. However, the mountaintop does indeed come with its own pitfalls. The desire to sacrifice the journey to stay atop the mountain, or perhaps the arrogance that comes from having that view of life and then condescending over those who have not seen that same view is a real danger.

Perhaps this is why Peter, James and John never mentioned this event to the others until after the Resurrection of Jesus. They knew what they experienced on one level, but they also knew that there was much more to experience with Jesus before they could come back there again.

It is only the monks and nuns who leave the world and live their lives in the sojourn from wilderness to mountaintop and back again with the fullness of intent who experience this ascent and descent as a part of their spiritual routine. The rest of us, making this same spiritual trek, while we may be acutely aware of the extremes – the bareness of the wilderness and joy of the mountain – are often unaware of the rhythm of the journey itself. As with all aspects of life, it is easy to get so caught up in the journey that we miss the landmarks along the way.

Lent is a time to remind ourselves of that journey. Yes, we open in the wilderness and we end on the Cross. There are some highs and lows in between, but we manage our journey because we are ultimately and fundamentally an Easter people, we are made for the Resurrection. Therein lies our hope.

This second Sunday of Lent is a glimpse for us of the promise of new life that the Lord offers to us. But it is only a glimpse. Like the disciples, we must come down the mountain and put it aside as we work to be invited back to the mountain top again.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.