Monday, 10 March 2014

2nd Sunday of Lent - Year A

Genesis 12:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. Actually it became quite crowded. Not only did Moses and Elijah appear, not only did the bright cloud appear, not only did the heavenly Father make his presence felt by speaking from the cloud – but, thanks to the gospel, you and I were there.

And so, now that we are back down from the mountain, what part of that whole incident spoke to you? What word, or gesture, or insight struck you? Most of us will have heard this gospel read many, many times over the course of our lives. I have just read it for you again. What grabbed you?

The first thing that struck me was the phrase ‘took with him’. Jesus took with him Peter, James and John. Immediately I was jealous. How wonderful it must have been to be taken somewhere special by the Lord. Walking behind him up that high mountain I would have wondered: ‘Where are we going? What’s going to happen? What is he going to show us?’

Of course, these are the exact same questions I have whenever I open my bible or take my rosary beads but on this particular occasion I anticipate something really special.

Then there is that little word ‘high’. It seems like an unnecessary repetition, a tautology. Isn’t a mountain high by its very nature? Otherwise it would be a hill. Perhaps Matthew wanted to stress that this journey, the journey to meet God, which Jesus was taking them on was rather long and difficult. Would they have been wondering, ‘Gosh, couldn’t he have picked a smaller mountain? This is taking forever.’

So what are you thinking right now about all this? Are you thinking, ‘Ah yes, Father John, but mountains are always the place in scripture where we meet God. Moses went up the mountain to meet God and so does Jesus, the new Moses.

Or perhaps you will say, ‘But isn’t the whole spiritual life a long and painful journey to God – a vale of tears?

Or maybe you will tell me that prayer is just like that journey up a high mountain – difficult but worth the effort.

Another thing that struck me was how tricky it eventually becomes, after meditating on this experience for some time, to decide which is the most striking or important element of the whole account? Was it the transfiguration moment – in which Jesus’ face begins to shine like the sun? ‘Like the sun!’ Can you imagine that? Do you see it in your mind’s eye? His face shone like the sun.

[At this point I distract myself by thinking of a young girl who goes into the beauty salon on her wedding day and comes out, after hours of work, transformed. She has been made into something she is not, with a beauty which is exterior and passing. Jesus, on the other hand, merely allowed the beauty within, the beauty that was already his, to momentarily shine through and be seen by his disciples.]

Perhaps you were amazed at the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the long dead giver of the Law and the great prophet. Perhaps you not only wondered why they should appear but why they would be talking to Jesus.

Or was it the ‘bright’ cloud, the scriptural sign of the presence of God, overshading the three apostles which astonished you? Did it cause you to think of the Holy Spirit which overshadowed the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation? Or maybe those words of Peter making baffling suggestions about constructing three tents, and then being silenced by the voice of the Father speaking from the cloud and claiming Jesus as his own Son?

My own reflection lead me to suspect that all these various elements of the mountaintop experience, as well as the ones I haven’t mentioned, were parts of a teaching on the central place of Jesus as Saviour of the world and of all history.

We must remember that salvation has a history, a history which has not yet ended. That’s why Moses and Elijah were there talking to Jesus who is always in dialogue with the Old Testament which he came not to destroy but to fulfil. And that is why Peter James and John were there with Jesus. They were the New Testament! And that is one good reason for having Peter, too, talk to Jesus.

In a way the gospel today can be usefully understood as a kind of living image or painting, or as Jesus calls it, a vision. And whichever way one imagines it – Jesus is always in the centre – the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord of time and space, the only door to the heavenly Father.

I mentioned earlier that along with the three apostles, through the gift of the gospel of Matthew, you and I were on the mountaintop too. We are an essential part of the story. In Lent we are given a special reminder of this, and through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, a special help to live our part.

Are you doing yours?

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