Every second Sunday of Lent, we reflect on the story where Jesus shone like the sun. In this event Jesus went up a high mountain and he was transfigured. In the Bible we frequently read about events that happen on mountains or high places.
The Jews believe that they can encounter God on the highest peak of the mountain. For example, it was on Mount Horeb where Abraham offered his son Isaac as he listened to God’s instruction. On Mount Sinai Moses received the commandments to guide the people. On Mount Carmel Elijah asked God for the sign to make people believe in Him. And so it was on Mount Tabor where the transfiguration happened. However, it was only on Mount Calvary that God fully reveals himself to all in Jesus as redeemer of the world. The Transfiguration is the anticipation of the glory of Jesus’ resurrection after the passion and cross. In the first reading Abraham was asked by God to offer three kinds of offerings to witness that the promise of God is true and, in parallel fashion, in the story of Jesus being transfigured, he took three of the disciples who will witness the shining glory of Jesus.
During this event the two prominent figures of the Old Testament appeared while Jesus shone like a sun. Why Moses and Elijah? These two prophets are very respected by the Jews. Moses was respected because of the Law and Elijah as a great prophet who had ascended to heaven on a chariot of horses. In the tradition of the Jews, in every meal there should be a vacant seat because they are waiting for the return of Elijah. They were expecting Elijah to come again. Unfortunately, the people of Israel did not recognized Jesus as the one sent by God who is greater than Moses and Elijah.
This a part of God’s ongoing revelation in Jesus. The Transfiguration is the continuation of the Epiphany of Jesus. God revealed who Jesus is in Jordan River and now on Mount Tabor the real identity of Jesus. The three disciples were reminded of this as the voice once again says: “This is my beloved Son…listen to him.” It is interesting to know that Peter, James and John were with Jesus for this great moment of the transfiguration. Why not Philip or other the disciples? Perhaps from these three disciples we can learn the value of listening and understanding God always. Remember that James and John the sons of a mother who is asking for position for them? The mother doesn’t know exactly what it means. Jesus asks them if they can drink the cup that He is to drink or his suffering. Peter, who is known to be a compulsive person, is always quick to decide or say something without careful listening. That is why during the resurrection, our Lord asks him three times to make sure that he understands what the Lord’s intention is. And in today’s gospel, Peter and other two are almost muted by what they have witnessed.
Peter wants to build three tents; one for Moses, Elijah and Jesus because of his desire to stay in the glorious experience. Building of tents could refer to the annual agricultural feast called Succoth, a commemoration of their journey from Egypt. In this encounter of God’s glory in Jesus at the transfiguration, Peter feels great joy as like at the feast of Succoth. This is the first time Peter experienced contemplation. Contemplation is a deeper kind of praying where we see ourselves in the experience of God. There is an experience of tranquility, joy and silence whenever we are in an encounter with God in contemplation. Perhaps, this is the reason why Peter desired to stay in the experience but he did not yet understand the meaning of this experience.
Like the Jewish belief, we encounter God in the mountain experience of contemplation but we need to go down to the valley of reality where we are to share the experience of God with others. Moses did not stay on the mountain but he was sent to Israel to bring the news of liberation. From Elijah’s contemplation of God’s Divine presence, the people got to experience the Divine presence in a gentle silence.
The experience of Jesus in the transfiguration event was not only for him but also to give his disciples an experience of the presence of God. The effect of the experience of God to Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John is a change of heart or metanoia. Whenever we decide to change our hearts (metanoia), we deeply experience God in our contemplation allowing our hearts to behold and see the Divine presence in us. However, like Peter and the other two, we tend to want to stay in the experience and never go down to the reality.
There is a story of a man, who was addicted to nicotine. His parents told him at his young age to stop smoking but he did not listen. When he was older already a family-man, his wife also asked him to stop smoking but again he did not listen. Then one of his children was found to have lung cancer caused by a second smoke from his smoking. This was the turning point of his life or a metanoia experience. However this decision would lead to more pressure and challenges on his part. The first weeks and months were a struggle. The more he refused to smoke, the greater the temptation was. He kept on trying to avoid the occasion of smoking; he made himself busy with reading the bible and praying. Then one day he finally noticed that he was no longer graving to smoke even if he would smell it. He was transformed from his old habit.
Last week on the First Sunday of Lent, we meditated on the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. And now for the Second Sunday we meditate on the story of the Transfiguration. And what is the implication of these two gospels taken together? Maybe God is reminding us that even after we decided to change our hearts (metanoia), we are being tempted not to continue. However, the transfiguration reminds us that even though there are many obstacles in prayer, in a change of heart and in doing good for others, we will never fall if we listen always to God’s voice. As we strive to live with God, in the end we will experience our transfiguration and the light God will be upon us so that we can shine as the sun. We will have won against the temptation. The saints are good examples of those who strive to pursue a life with God despite of obstacles.
In every celebration of the Eucharist we draw near to the Holy Mountain of Calvary so that we might experience anew the saving power of God. And like Peter, James and John, we do not stay on the mountain but after the Mass we are being sent to the valley of reality to be living witnesses of the Lord to others.