The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Back to the future

Path of Reflection through Scripture
Second Week of Lent

Gospel for Sunday, March 4, 2012: Mark 9:2-10
Read it here

Yet again, the significance of the Gospel passage for this second Sunday of Lent is best considered in light of what immediately precedes it (Mark 8:31- 9:1). After predicting his passion and death and outlining the self-sacrificing conditions of authentic discipleship, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John (three apostles who will later take on important leadership roles in the early Church) up a mountain. There, he is transfigured before them in a sight almost too wonderful to behold. Also appearing with him are Elijah and Moses, representing the Prophets and the Law, which are fulfilled in the person of Christ, the Son of God (cf. Luke 24:44; 4:24).

Notice the distinct Trinitarian elements in the account. Three apostles. Law, Prophets, and Fulfillment. And, finally, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In a scene remarkably similar to that of the baptism of Jesus, a cloud descends, and from it a voice declares, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” God reveals himself to the three apostles, giving them a brief glimpse of Christ in his glory, and connecting his appearance with all that has happened before him throughout salvation history. For the moment, Peter, James, and John are simply terrified and mystified. Later, after the Resurrection of Christ, the Ascension to God the Father, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this will all make more sense to them as they begin their work of laying the Church’s foundation.

Most interesting are three words at the beginning of the Gospel passage that are not actually read at Mass from the Lectionary: “After six days…” Six days after what? These three words tie together what follows—the Transfiguration—with what preceded it—the prediction of Jesus’ passion and death, along with the costly demands of discipleship (which Peter, at least, didn’t want to hear). So, seven days after Jesus lays it all on the line and tells his disciples what to realistically expect, he reveals his glory. The three future leaders of the early Church are given a heavenly foretaste of what self-sacrifice in Christ, and through Christ, will mean for all disciples through all ages. In other words, after the harshness of what was told them six days earlier, on the seventh day, they were given hope.

And that is precisely what we celebrate this Sunday and every Sunday—the seventh day, and the beginning of all the days that follow. We celebrate the hope of the Resurrection that is ours in Christ, and we enter into God’s rest. This was prefigured in Genesis’ story of Creation: God “rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:2-3). On the seventh day, we rest in our hope in the New Creation that comes to us through Christ. We are given a glimpse of the transfiguration that awaits all the faithful who deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus.

Truly, it is good for us to be here. Today, we behold the Resurrection and the Life, and know that whoever believes in him, even if he dies, will live, and that everyone who lives and believes in him will never die (cf. John 11:25-26).

So, as Jesus asks Martha in John 11:27 before raising her brother Lazarus from the dead: “Do YOU believe this?”

Let us listen to him.
The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of Jesus’ disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.
With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift. The members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed in Christ their head.
The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death. If we are steadfast in our faith in him and in our love for him, we win the victory that he has won, we receive what he has promised.
-- Saint Leo the Great, Pope

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