The Second Sunday of Lent ~ March 12th, 2017
Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire.
I’d like to begin once again with some notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay. He says that tradition has it that this event took place on Mount Tabor but it’s no more than 1,000 feet high. Barclay suggests it’s more likely, that the transfiguration event took place on snow-covered Mount Hermon that’s 9,400 feet high where there would be more solitude.
Then he explains 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. All the gospel writers speak of luminous cloud which overshadowed them. All through history the luminous cloud stood for the shechinah, which was nothing less than the glory of the Almighty God. In Exodus, we read of the pillar of fire that was to lead the people away from their slavery. “And the cloud covered the tent of meeting and glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)
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 my 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 / Matthew /Volume 2 pp. 156-162.)
Now here are my reflections . . . . .
It’s a great story. It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert when he was 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 exhilarating 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 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. It wasn’t an illusion. It was a real moment in their lives.
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.
Such a moment 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 an intense personal affirmation . 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 gives zests to 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 engaging.
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 with whom I am well pleased. 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 or a friend or your boss praise you for something that you did or for who you are? 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 ~ accept 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.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
the Gospel of Matthew Revised Edition Volume 2 / The Daily Study Bible Series / William Barclay
The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975