2nd Sunday of Lent
Gospel of Luke 9:28-36
How is your Lent going?
To be honest, I am not sure as to how to answer that question. Should one even have a “good” Lent? Or, in the spirit of penance, fasting and the giving of alms, is a “good” Lent even the goal?
The word “Lent” itself defines the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The word’s origins are Germanic and come from a word meaning “lengthening of days”, which in and of itself inspires a bit of hope, but in light of the bitter cold and snow we experienced this past week, maybe not so much. However, this definition still does not provide any real help in finding the appropriate answer to the question, “how is your Lent going?”
St. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, today’s Gospel reading, describes both a bizarre and holy event. Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus to the mountain to pray… and promptly fall asleep. In spite of this, however, they do witness the incredible transformation of Jesus as he is conversing with two of most significant individuals of their Jewish faith. St. Luke’s tells us, “They saw his glory.”
We might find an answer to today’s Lenten question in the Apostles inability to stay awake, but to be honest that is just low hanging fruit. To condemn the disciples might be a bit too “judgy”. To be honest, I too have a tendency to fall asleep at the most inconvenient times. At about 9pm my internal dial goes from “go” to “no”. This dramatic shift occurs almost every night regardless of where I am at or what I am doing. This tendency of mine has even become a point of contention between my wife and I, especially when my snoring interferes with her conversation with our guests. Now, I am not saying that Peter, James, and John suffer from that same ailment, but from the accounts found in the other Gospels, they also seem to shift from “go” to “no” when it gets dark.
So… what else can we find in today’s Gospel that might help us in answering our Lenten question?
In St. Luke’s words, Peter responds to his encounter with the Glory of Jesus, by stating, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Though St. Luke seems to add an editor’s note, “but he did not know what he was saying”, St. Peter, whether by accident or with intent, still said it. In essence, St. Peter the Apostle, the Rock on which the Church was built, gave voice to one of the most prevalent struggles that has plagued us when we encounter Jesus… he wanted to put him in a box.
Jesus cannot be contained. He cannot be compartmentalized. He cannot be controlled. His humility, his sacrifice, his love is without boundary or limit. Yet, just like our beloved St. Peter, we want to build walls, create structures, and designate times and/or places for Jesus.
Jesus reveals himself to us… because that is what he does. In fact, Jesus is always revealing himself to us. Jesus emptied himself and became man that he may reveal the fullness of himself, God, to all of humanity. He walked among us. He ate with us. He suffered and died on the cross for us in order that we might all know him and be saved. Yet, in our humanity, in our weakness, and in our sin we respond to Jesus’s attempts to reveal himself to us, with “Jesus why don’t you just stay over there.”
For example, as Catholics we know that in Mass, and most especially in the Eucharist, we have opportunity to encounter Jesus. Yet do we attend Mass every Sunday? Or do we find excuses and reasons to leave Jesus in his place and remain in ours.
Sometimes the opposite is true. We may be faithful attenders of Mass… every week with out fail. Yet when we encounter the suffering Christ in the poor and the marginalized… we turn our heads, stop up our ears, and tightly grip our wallets. We are perfectly fine with encountering Jesus in the Eucharist but let him into our hearts and minds? Allow him to open our hearts to the suffering of others with love and compassion… “No, it’s okay Jesus, you just stay right there.”
The mountain top experience that Peter and the other Apostles experienced is beyond our human understanding. Jesus’s face changed in appearance, his clothes became dazzling white, and he appeared to them in his glory. Is it any wonder that Peter, even with his lack of understanding, so desperately wanted to control what he was experiencing? It is any wonder that Peter’s first thought was, “How can we make sure this moment never goes away?” Is it any wonder that the Glory of God is so magnificent… so desirable… so enthralling that no one would ever want to be separated from it?
Of course not! The glory of God is a holy and magnificent wonder!
The mountain top experience is not the problem. The moments in our lives when we encounter the glory of God are entirely fantastic. The problem is not the encounter, but it is our resistance to what Christ wants to do to us, through us, and with us as a result of that encounter.
The answer to our Lenten question, “How is your Lent going?” is not a “good” or a “bad”. Rather, our answer to this question is a simple “yes” or “no”. Yes, we are allowing the limitless love of Christ Jesus to transform our lives. Yes, we are allowing the very glory of God to change our response to the suffering and pain of those around us. Yes, we are encountering Jesus in the Eucharist, and in our prayer, and through fasting, and by our giving and we are allowing him to revive us, refresh us, and renew us in his image. Yes, our Lent is going exactly as our Savior intended!