Gospel Reflection for The Second Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2020

The disciples Peter, James and John accompany Jesus to the top of a Galilean mountain. If the mountain traditionally climbed by Christians is indeed the Mountain of the Transfiguration, then the climb was worth the view alone; the mountain is high above the plains on which Deborah and Barak defended the Israelites against the army of Sisera in the Book of Judges. The battle marked a decisive moment in the history of the Israelites, taking place more than 1.200 years before Jesus. The memory of that battle lives on in the collective memory of the people. Standing on that mountain is much like standing at any great historical monument in our own country where one’s thoughts can easily turn to the past and reflect on the historical moments that allowed the present to be possible.

However, Jesus did not lead the disciples on the arduous several-hour journey just to see the view below or to reflect on the past glories of victory.

Matthew emphasizes that the disciples have a “vision” of Jesus with Moses and Elijah, and that Jesus is transfigured before them. The word “transfiguration” is a single-use word. We use it solely to refer to this moment in the life of Jesus and the disciples. The Greek is much less unique, referencing more of a metamorphosis, some kind of a physical and spiritual transformation.

Although different from Jesus, Moses is transfigured as well as he encounters God on Mount Sinai. After his encounter with the Lord, Moses’ face glows so brightly that he veils his face from the people as they cannot look at him. Jesus’ appearance to the disciples at the Transfiguration is a foreshadowing of the Resurrection, and a signification of his unique relationship with the father. Unlike Moses, who could not be seen, Jesus does not shield his face from the disciples. This is a necessary consequence of the Incarnation, God-made-man in the person of Jesus, is accessible to us. To see Jesus is to see God, something totally unimaginable to the ancient Israelites.

As with Moses and Elijah, Jesus has this unique encounter with the Father atop a mountain. Unlike Moses and Elijah, however, Jesus is not alone in his encounter. Moses descends Mount Sinai with the Tablets of the Commandments. Elijah returns from Mount Horeb commissioned to anoint kings and prophets in the name of the Lord. Jesus, accompanied by three disciples, descends Mount Tabor having been affirmed in his Sonship and, united with Moses and Elijah, aligned with the Law and the Prophets. The disciples have seen the fulfillment in Jesus, who is the Son sent to complete the work of the Father.

Just prior to ascending the mountain, Jesus had spoken with the disciples about his messianic mission – to go to Jerusalem and be handed over to death. According to an early tradition of the Church, the Transfiguration occurred 40 days before the Crucifixion hence, the location of the proclamation of this account always on the Second Sunday of Lent. He will reaffirm this mission to them yet again two more times as he travels with the disciples toward Jerusalem. His mission was affirmed on the mountain, and the disciples are given a glimpse of what is to come. Descending the mountain Jesus speaks not of his impending Death, but of the promise of the Resurrection.

Although Lent is a time of focus on the events of Jesus Passion and Death, the Transfiguration is a reminder of the hope of eternal life accomplished through the completion of the Paschal Events in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

This is the image we carry throughout Lent. While we focus on the suffering and Death of Jesus, we always look beyond to their fulfillment in the Resurrection.

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