The Second Sunday of Lent
Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire.
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I’d like to begin as I did last week with some notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay. He say that tradition has it that this event took place on Mount Tabor but is no more than 1,000 feet high. It is more likely , Barclay, suggests, that the transfiguration event took place on snow-covered Mount Hermon that is 9,200 feet high where there would be more solitude.
Then he talks about the significance of the cloud. In Jewish thought, God’s presence is regularly connected with the cloud. It was in the cloud that Moses met God. It was in the cloud that God came to the tabernacle. Here, the descent of the cloud was a way of saying the Messiah had come.
The transfiguration has a two-fold significance,
First, it did something significant for Jesus. He had made the decision to go to Jerusalem, which meant facing the Cross and his death. On the mountain he received the approval of Moses and Elijah. They basically said, “Go on!” And he received the wonderful affirmation of his Father, who basically said, “You are acting as I own beloved Son should and must act. Go on!”
Secondly, it did something significant for the disciples. They were shattered that he was going to Jerusalem to die. Things were happening that were breaking their heart. What they experienced with Jesus on the mountain, even though they didn’t understand, gave them something to hold on to. It made them witnesses to the glory of Christ; they had a story they could hold in their hearts until the time came when they could share it. (Barclay / Mark pp. 210, 11.)It’s is a great story. It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil. Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.
And here are my reflections. It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil. Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.
Peter, James and John are genuinely high in this morning’s gospel story. First, they’re on a mountain – that’s high already, and secondly, they see Jesus transfigured before them in dazzling glory. This is a wonderful spiritual high , lest you get the wrong idea. For Peter, James and John, this is as good a high as it gets – seeing the Son of God in his true glory. They’re blown away.
Peter, speaking for all of them, wants to stay there, at least, a good while longer. But it doesn’t happen. They have to come back down from the mountain. We might say they had to return to reality, but that’s not accurate. The vision of Jesus in brilliant light was reality too. It wasn’t imaginary; chemicals didn’t artificially produce it.
We experience wholesome highs, too. A particularly rewarding achievement, an especially fulfilling moment in a relationship ~ a time when, for whatever reason, the world is bright, life makes sense, and most of the pieces of our lives fit together.
It can happen in our spiritual life, too. A retreat or some other spiritual experience can send us soaring. At such moments, we may feel the immense joy of God’s love and affirmation intensely. But the experience inevitably fades. We “come back to reality.” But, again, that’s not accurate. The spiritual high was also reality; it becomes folded into the rest of our life, like salt that enlivens the taste of food.
Imagine that you are in Jesus’ company, along with Peter James and John as they are climbing the mountain. You are about to have your own mountain top experience.
Perhaps you’ve lived in a valley all your life or are pretty much confined to the view that four walls bring you.
In the valleys, your view is limited; you cannot see either the sunrise or the sunset. On a mountain top, your horizon gets expanded. You can look far into the distance and see the sunrise if you are looking east, or the sunset if you are looking west. Life in a valley can be boring, dull, monotonous. Life as viewed from a mountain top can be exhilarating and exciting.
You may never have a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had. Even ONE mountain top experience ~ one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.
Any close encounter with God can be life-changing. I remember one I had in 1976.
I was making a private retreat. My retreat director assigned me a scripture on which to meditate. I was to take a full hour to reflect on the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert from the gospel of Mark. Nothing came the first time. Nor the second. The third one connected. One brief experience (it lasted only about 15 minutes) has changed my relationship with Jesus forever.
I had the experience that Jesus was quite close to me; in the meditation I got close enough to wrestle with him. Yes, wrestle with him! If that happened in my mind’s eye, then it was and is possible to think of myself very often as that close to Jesus. (I felt quite certain that I did not conjure it up because I never would have dreamed of myself in that situation with our Lord.)
How about you ~ have you ever had a peak experience? Have you had more than one? Then you understand what I am talking about. You know that such moments can be life-changing.
What does it take to have a peak experience?
It can happen just in the faculty of our imagination ~ that special place inside us where we can be led to new and wonderful things, things never seen before.
It requires openness ~ a sense of adventure, a willingness to leave our comfortable place to climb a mountain.
Now imagine that you are accompanying Jesus and Peter, James and John as they climb the mountain . . . . And you see Jesus become radiant. Dazzling. Incredibly beautiful in his appearance ~ his face, his hands his hair, his robe.
And then hear the Voice from above proclaim to you and the others:
“This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
How would you feel? Would you be afraid? Would you be filled with joy? Would you fall to the ground in worship?
Let’s focus on one point of the story.
Jesus received a tremendous affirmation from his heavenly Father who was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
This was a moment of affirmation for Jesus. Surely he needed it; he could feel the weight of his mission upon his shoulders. He had an intuition that his life would enter upon tremendous suffering and death. He also received affirmation from Moses and Elijah and then, Peter, James and John, in turn, were affirmed that their choice to follow him was essentially correct.
How about you — how often do you receive affirmation?
How often does your spouse praise you for something that you did or for who you are? How often do your children praise you? Probably not very often. How often do you sense God is affirming you?
Affirmation is very important. It was important for Jesus; and it is important for you and me.
Athletes get lots of affirmation and praise especially the ones who get gold medals but maybe not so often for the rest of us.
I used to receive a lot of affirmation when I was in a parish. These days my dog Shoney gets all the praise and attention.
As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come. When they come, embrace them. Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do. Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.
I pray for God’s affirmation for each of you. Hear him say: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.
Now give someone a really good affirmation before the day is over. And, before you go, here’s our traditional Catholic hymn Holy God We Praise Thy Name as you’ve never heard it before. Click here.
the Gospel of Mark Revised Edition / The Daily Study Bible Series / William Barclay
The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975
The First Sunday of Lent ~ The Fidelity of Jesus (February 22, 2015)
(All the Scripture texts for this Mass can be found at the link that follows. After you’ve looked at this site, to get back to this page, at the top Left corner of your computer screen look for the tiny arrow ( <) pointing left. Click on it. Here’s the link for the Mass readings: Click here.
This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation. In Mark’s Gospel, the author condenses the story to two sentences, beginning with the fascinating line, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert . . .tempted by Satan.
Let’s begin with a couple of qualifications. First, I was God’s idea. Jesus was driven out there, Mark says. Mmmm. William Barclay in his commentary on sacred scripture tell us that the purpose for this “was for a testing time.” Temptations are not sent to make us fall, but to strengthen our nerve and our will. They are not meant for our ruin but for our good.
Second, “forty days” is not meant to be taken literally. Moses was on the mountain forty days; the Israelites wandered in the desert 40 years. This is just a Hebrew phrase meaning “a considerable a mount of time.”
Third, the word Satan in Hebrew simply means advesary. In the book of Job, Satan is one of the sons of God (Job 1:6). And, of course, the other title of Satan is the devil from the Greek diabolos, which literally means slanderer. Through their captivity to the Persians, they learned something: there are two powers ~ one of darkness and light. Thus, in this world, there is God and God’s adversary. Satan becomes in essence everything that is against God. (Barclay Gospel of Mark pp.21-23.)
And so, with this as background, I’d like to elaborate on the story from my imagination here . . . .
This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.
This is a story about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a father/God who loves us with an everlasting love.
This is a story of confrontation and testing.
Dramatic confrontation with the elements ~blinding sun and penetrating darkness, blistering wind and numbing cold, impassioned hunger and parching thirst.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and fast.
There, he would shape his mission. He was searching for the answer of the question: What kind of spiritual leader would he be?
There, he was also tempted by the devil, who sought him to distort that mission.
First, a harsh voice prompted Jesus to turn stones into bread as a way of manipulating others to get them to follow him. Jesus could have made people dependent on him; instead, he shared with them what he realized: One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Another harsh voice tempted him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple and have his angels come and raise him up. He could put together a traveling road show of clever signs and wonders. Things would be easier that way. People would easily follow a clever magician. But this would draw people away from the Father, not toward him.
The soft voice was simply asking Jesus to reveal the real order of the Father’s kingdom.
Jesus realized his mission in life was to reveal Abba’s love as Father of all. Jesus was to let the world know that there was a soft voice within us all, who is there to affirm and to love, to test and to guide.
A third harsh voice promised Jesus the whole world, saying: “You’ve got the power to gain the whole world. You can be king of this world.
And Jesus sadly realized that many of his followers, even in the Church, would succumb to greed of every form. They would kill in Crusades and Inquisitions in the name of love.
As he was tempted, he was led into a soul-embracing love of the One he was to reveal. In the desert, Jesus must have knelt down and promised in all simplicity to seek and to do the will of the Father from moment to moment. And in that act of fidelity, in that decision, the new covenant surely was sealed in Jesus’ heart.
In the desert and its temptations, the whole of humanity was drawn into the possibility of intimate experience of the divine. Because one person was willing to be led into the holy of holies, we all can go with him. We can go–provided that we ~ like Jesus, are willing to be tested and cleansed, strengthened and purified.
You see, dear friends, in this story, at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, is the answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die?
The answer is: to surrender himself into the hands of evil people was the only way Jesus could be faithful. God could have intervened on behalf of his own son. But that was out of the question. The world could not accept God as a gentle Father. They found his message of love much too demanding. And since the authorities could not and would not accept him and his message, the only recourse left to him was simply to give witness to that message–even to the end. He chose to be faithful to the soft Voice of the Father , not compromise the message, even if it led to his death.
Jesus had to suffer and die because, tragically, that was the only way the world would allow him to be faithful to the Word he heard and preached.
The Father was more pleased with the fidelity of one son than he would have been with the spread of a message that did not reveal his love.
This is a powerful lesson for those among us who would coerce others into being good ~ church leaders, or any one else in authority.
The false voices which Jesus tamed and quieted ~ the voices of greed or accolade or power–we must tame and quiet, relying on his power as elder Son.
The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear. And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This ~ is the Jesus I know and love!
And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father. Through Jesus, may we be faithful too.
And now, before you go, here’s a song I’ve always loved with a lovely slide show ~ Be Not Afraid. Click here. Remember to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
William Barclay: the Gospel of Mark Revised Edition / The Daily Study Bible Series / The Westminster Press Philadelphia / 1975
Flagler Beach sunrise / bob traupman.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!
We’ve been reflecting on St. Paul’s eloquent words about love from I Corinthians 13.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Romantic love may wear off in a few months or in a year or so. True love requires fidelity.
I often remember people I met briefly forty or fifty years ago and there is still a place in my heart for them, even those who were adversaries. And when I think of them I believe my prayer is able to touch them even now, either living or dead and in some way let them know I still love them.
We think we know all about love, but Love is an Art and a Discipline to be learned and acquired by trial and error. As such, we have to learn how to love. Or perhaps unlearn what we have learned in abusive homes and find people who can teach us how to love well. I am profoundly grateful for the people who allowed my soul to unfold and blossom because of their love.
When I taught high school seniors (45 years ago!) I had them read two books, Erich Fromm’s Art of Loving and Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Both books still should be required reading by anyone who wants to become a whole and healed human person.
Many of us keep focusing on finding the right object of our love. Fromm ~ and Jesus ~ tell us that being a person who is capable of loving the stranger in the checkout line at the 7-11 or your sibling whose guts you can’t stand is the way we will learn to love.
Love is being free to love the one you’re with so you can be with the one you love.
It is just not possible to love some and hate others. St. John says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).
Love is being able to see and respond to the loving energy of the universe and spread it around instead of trying to possess it for oneself.
Love is faithfully loving whomever God puts in our life at every turn of our life’s journey.
Good and gracious God,
We live in a world that gives us so few models of faithful love.
Help us to learn the art and discipline of loving.
Help us to understand that we cannot love one person ~ even ourselves ~ unless we let love ~ rather than hate ~ flow from our heart to touch and heal and nourish those around us.
Heal us, Lord.
Let us trust in You for you are the Source of all Love,
Your Love is flowing like a river giving life to everything along the day.
May love flow like a river from our own hearts to every one we meet this day.
And what better way to end our series “What is Love” on this Valentine’s Day with Andre Rieu’s rendition of the Romeo and Juliet theme. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen to view the lovely video.
And here is the entire text of St. Paul’s Ode to Love (I Corinthians 13) Savor each line and see how you measure up. . . .
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous,
Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never fails.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13
mesa verde national park of southern colorado / march 2008 / bob traupman.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Our society finds it quite acceptable for people to hop into one relationship after another or just satisfy their needs by”hooking up”.
How many times have young people thought that this was the person of their dreams and been dumped by a rude text message ~ or done the dumping themselves?
How many marriages have ended when one spouse shows up in the kitchen and announces, “I want a divorce!” No discussion. No attempt to work out problems. No mercy. No forgiveness. It’s over. Done.
And what happens is that we may add one unsuccessful relationship on top of another. As a result, our heart can become more and more wounded. And less and less trusting, less and less capable of loving . . . unless we somehow find a way to believe again, to hope again.
So, let’s take a deeper look at the truth and the transforming power of St. Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13 that we’re reflecting on in this series “What is Love?”
LOVE . . .
. . . it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
it bears all things. believes all things, hopes all things. endures all things.
Love never fails.
We just have to learn to love anyway.
At least, that’s what St. Paul is getting at “Love does not brood over injuries.”
In the Art of Loving, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s classic book written in 1956, consider his statement that will blow most of us out of the water:
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person: it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love. If a person loves only one person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment or an enlarged egotism . . . If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world; I love life. If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say”I love in you everybody. I love through you the world, I love in you also myself” (emphasis mine)~ p. 39.)
This is, of course, is the heart of Jesus’ message, but many, if not most of us who say we’re his followers, still don’t get it.
As tech opportunities for “communication” proliferate, the less we communicate. We communicate more and more on a superficial level. You can’t really know someone through texting or on Facebook or in an email. A person can present a false persona. The only real way to communicate with someone is to be in their presence using all our senses.
We need to learn, once again how to come to true intimacy ~ the coming together of two or more persons who have the courage to open ourselves to the transformative power of love.
If you are one who seeks that, I’m with you. That’s what my writing is about.
In tomorrow’s blog in this series, I’ll turn this subject around to consider “The Transformative Power of Love.”
Good and gracious God,
we ask you to heal the hearts that are broken.
Help us to see even in the midst of our brokenness the depth of Your Love for us.
And may we see Your brokenness when we reject Your love.
We may feel we cannot take the risk to open our hearts once more.
Give us the courage and strength to stop destructive patterns that lead only to more pain.
Give us hope, Lord.
Instead of seeking to find our true love,
let us simply become persons who love ~
. . . whomever we’re with,
. . . to grow in our capacity to love that we can hold the whole world in our embrace
as You do at every moment,
in every time and place.
To You, God of our understanding,
we give You praise, now and forever.
Now one more time, look at that tree at the top of the page, weathering the mountaintop at 8000 feet. It has been jilted by the weather. But it still stands nobly and proudly ~ broken, gnarled and twisted ~ but a fine lesson to us of the meaning of life.
And here is the entire text of St. Paul’s Ode to Love (I Corinthians 13) once again. Savor each phrase and see how you measure up . . .
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous. Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. So faith, hope love remain, these, but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13
Now, before you go, here’s Paul Mc Cartney singing “All my loving” Click here.