Sunday, March 17, 2019

MARCH 17, 2019

In the study halls of Biblical Scholarship, some experts refer to Luke’s Gospel as the “Gospel of Prayer.” Luke frequently sites numerous instances when Jesus or others are at prayer. Early in his narrative, Luke describes both Mary and Zechariah offering their prayerful canticles of praise and thanksgiving to God in response to Gabriel’s revelations to them. Mary chants her “Magnificat” and Zechariah his “Benedictus.”

This morning’s Gospel opens with Jesus leading his most intimate disciples, Peter, James and John, to a lofty mountain to join him in prayer. It is important to note that in the ancient Biblical world, there was no more sacred place, outside the great Temple in Jerusalem, to prayerfully encounter God than a mountain where the crest reached into the heavens above. It was in those very heights where Moses and Elijah, whom we shall meet momentarily in today’s unfolding story, prayerfully experienced God’s numinous presence centuries before the birth of Jesus.

Once Jesus and his disciples reach their destination and are together in prayer, Luke tells us that Jesus undergoes a total transformation. His face changes and his garments become dazzling white. His entire presence is transposed; he becomes transparent and translucent with light. In fact, Luke is so touched by Christ’s total transfiguration that he invites us to “Behold:” namely to look and see for ourselves what is taking place. Throughout his Gospel, Luke frequently uses the word, “Behold,” as a technique when he wishes to draw special attention to a point he wants us to pay particularly close attention to because it contains a powerful revelation of profound importance for our lives. In this instance, the transfiguration of Jesus discloses who he is; what his true identity is.

Reinforcing Christ’s transformed appearance is the presence of the two legendary Old Testament figures representing the epitome of Jewish life: Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet. Like Jesus, they too radiate God’s glory, the Shekinah Yahweh.

In the story as Moses and Elijah are on the verge of disappearing from the scene, Peter and his fellow companions awaken from their brief sleep. Then, in his customary fashion, Peter blurts out to Jesus: “Master, it is good that we are here,” quickly adding a total nonsequitur about erecting three tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. He wishes to replicate the way in which Jewish families gathered annually in Jerusalem for eight days, pitching their tents to celebrate the joyous autumn Feast of Tabernacles whereby they commemorated their Jewish ancestors’ exodus from slavery in Egypt across the desert into the Promised Land of their newfound freedom.

In the midst of Peter’s preposterous suggestion, a cloud, similar to the cloud that led the Jewish People for forty years across the barren desert into a land flowing with milk and honey, casts a great shadow over the prayerful disciples enveloping them in darkness and causing deep fear in their hearts.

Suddenly, from the cloud, a voice, akin to the voice which Jesus heard while at prayer after his baptism by John the Baptist, announces a similar message to Peter and his companions: “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” It is important to point out that the message approximates the message of the voice from heaven heard after the baptism of Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” However, it is equally important to notice that Jesus is at prayer after his baptism when the Spirit descends upon him and a voice reveals his identity. As usual, in Luke’s Gospel, momentous events and revelations take place in the sacred context and holy time of prayer.

My sisters and brothers, it is Lent, a time of prayer, a holy season when God invites us to ascend our own mountain and enter the cave of our own hearts. God is summoning us to become more intimate companions of Jesus, to enter our interior cloud of prayer, to be witnesses ourselves of his transfiguration in us, and to hear the voice of God reveal God’s profound message: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Rev. Bill Watters, SJ
Saint Ignatius Church
Baltimore, Maryland 21202

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