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Last Sunday, although the Gospel was very short, it offered a number of images and concepts that allowed us to approach Lent with a clear idea of the path we are going to follow. This Sunday is also extremely rich, enabling us to discover hidden nuances of past celebrations and glimpse the end and purpose of Jesus’ mission. Just in case we are frightened by Lenten penance, Jesus’ shining face will provide us with a bit of solace. As on other Sundays, I will limit my task to giving you some hints to grasp the content of the texts, for they are too dense to be developed in full.
The “hurried” tone at the beginning of the Gospel must already sound familiar. It is typical of Mark to be in a hurry and to take for granted that his readers know the context of his stories. Besides, the lectionary has omitted the first words of the passage, although they are extremely important: “After six days…,” or “Six days later…” (9: 2). The reader cannot but ask “After what?” Of course, the answer is, just after Jesus had announced his death and resurrection as the way he would fulfill his Messianic vocation. The disciples did not understand the message, for their attention was focused only on the hard side of the announcement: Jesus’ passion and death. Peter was the one who dared reject Jesus’ plans openly: “he took him aside and began to rebuke him” (8:32). The truth is, nobody could understand that the Messiah, the heir to David’s throne, who would set his people free from Roman domination, should undergo what Jesus had announced. “If that is the future of our leader, what will happen to us? What will our own future be?” The most optimistic words for their feelings could be disconcertment and disappointment.
The Transfiguration is a moment of relief and solace, for the disciples did not seem to have heard or understood the phrase “rise after three days.” The three disciples invited to witness that vision were those closest to Jesus, those who were with him in Jairus’ house and saw what happened to the girl (Mark 5:35-43). But neither that sign nor this made them stronger in faith or fidelity. When put to the test in Gethsemane, they were not able to stay awake and pray with Jesus (14:32-42). For us, who know the entire story, the parallel with Jesus’ baptism is obvious, and the presence of Elijah and Moses, together with the voice of the Father, ratified Jesus as his “beloved Son.” We might expect the three disciples to have experienced something deeper than the dazzling images. Not at all. They were so terrified that we may doubt if they understood the command: “Listen to him.”
This Sunday’s liturgy takes us a step further in our understanding of our Lenten preparation for Easter. It makes us see, once again, that the way in which we look at the history of salvation always falls short of its full meaning. The Transfiguration is just a glimpse of the real end of the “path to Jerusalem,” the resurrection of the Lord, a glory that cannot be attained but by obedience, “listening” to the Father’s will manifested in him. So when the disciples (not only the Twelve, but we, who are bidden to take our cross and follow Jesus), will have to face “anguish, or distress, or persecution, …or the sword,” we know that nothing will separate us from the love God shown when he handed his beloved Son over for us, the One who died, was raised and intercedes for us
After so many details, a few simple but hard to answer questions for our Meditatio. Quite often non-believers criticize us Christians for insisting too much on sin, guilt, penance and atonement, as though our faith were a series of commands and prohibitions destined to make our lives unhappy. And we must admit that we sometimes offer a gloomy image of ourselves. To what extent does that image represent our lack of perspective about the Paschal mystery, the real center of our faith? Is Lent just a time of “mortification” instead of an occasion to prepare ourselves to celebrate the risen Christ?
You must have noticed I have not mentioned the passage from Genesis. We can find a number of interpretations to make Abraham’s test and his obedience seem acceptable. You can find them quite easily on the web. But allow me a question that makes me feel deeply uneasy: are we conscious of the consequences that our legitimate decisions, made “in conscience,” can have on the lives of other people? Do we ever dare look, with a critical approach, on some of our convictions, so easily identified with God’s will?
Pray for those who find themselves in situations of darkness and distress because of their fidelity to Jesus and the Gospel: that they may experience a glimpse of the Paschal light to help them on their way.
Let us pray for the Church or community we belong to: that we may be messengers of the joy of Easter, even if we take this time of Lent as a period devoted to convert ourselves to the Lord by “almsgiving, prayer and fasting.”
As you have seen, the passage of the Transfiguration is directly related to Jesus’ announcement of his passion and resurrection. I suggest some “extension” to the readings of today’s liturgy. Read again Mark 8:27-38 and Romans 8:28-39. You may find in those passages a comforting approach to understand “the cost of discipleship,” which is not a simple path of renouncement but an exercise of confidence in God’s limitless love for us.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,