2nd Sunday of Lent – 13th March 2022
Lectionary Readings: Gen. 15:5-12. 17- 18; Ps. 27:1.7-9.13-14; Phil. 3:17-4:1; Lk. 9:28-36
Theme: God’s presence in the ‘between’ places of our live
We hear in today’s Gospel story, the Transfiguration, that Jesus took with him Peter, John and James, the same disciples who were present when Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter. In that story, we learned that she died before Jesus reached her. However, Jesus said, ‘She is not dead but asleep’. On taking her by the hand he said, ‘My child, get up!’ and ‘her spirit returned and she stood up.’ (8:51-56) This story highlights the thin veil that exists between death and life. Likewise in our Gospel reading today, the Transfiguration seems to occur in an ‘in-between’ place, where the veil between life and death is very fine. Present with Jesus are Moses and Elijah who had died to this world centuries before.
This ‘in-between’ place seems to overwhelm Peter, John and James and they become ‘weighed down with sleep’. However, ‘since they had stayed awake’, they could see the ‘glory’. Perhaps they could also hear the conversation which our Gospel tells us was about Jesus’ departure (Greek: exodus). Might this topic have been enough to create a psychological ‘heaviness’ amongst the disciples? In the Hebrew, ‘glory’ (kavod) holds a sense of heaviness or gravitas. As with death and life, the ‘heavy sleep’ of the disciples offers a contrast to the ‘glory’ they witness as Jesus, Elijah and Moses engage in conversation. Their ’glory’ moves Peter to want to capture this moment by building ‘tents’ for each of them. We can see his difficulty in fully conprehending the experience when we’re told that Peter did not really know what he was saying (9:33). In any case, he is interrupted by God’s voice speaking into the scene from a cloud. The veil between worlds seems ever finer.
In this key moment in Jesus’ life, as he approaches his ‘departure’, he is supported by Moses and Elijah. Like these figures who are so familiar to Jesus, his death will not be the final word in the story. Jesus is about to ‘accomplish’ or ‘fulfil’ something in Jerusalem and the use of the ‘term “exodus” cannot be unchained from its connection with the liberation from Egypt and so the Passover. … The language of “fulfilled” confirms the symbolic import of Luke’s description.’ (Levine & Witherington, p261) One can only imagine the depth of their conversation at this time. Moses has navigated the people of Israel from slavery, through the desert, and into freedom; Elijah has walked with many at death’s door, whether literally in the story of the widow of Zarephath and her son (1 Kings 17) or metaphorically in encouraging the people to return to God and the life God offers; and now Jesus’ moment of ‘departure’ is near and all that it offers will also come to light in due course.
Levine and Witherington (p263) capture a significant aspect of this moment when they write, ‘since the voice from heaven necessarily relates to the earlier voice from heaven heard at the baptism – “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (3:22) – at the Transfiguration the meaning of Jesus’ sonship develops. It is a sonship in complete agreement with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets no more disappear with the bodies of Moses and Elijah than the Gospel disappears with the ascended body Jesus. Law, Prophets, and Gospel are all in continuity; the bodies are absent, but the words remain.’
For Reflection and Discussion: We can get pulled into the heavy burdens of life and no longer see the extraordinary in our midst. What do you do to stay alert and open to the extraordinary in the ordinary?
Bibliography: Levine, A.J. & Witherington, B. The Gospel of Luke (Cambridge: 2018)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Thérèse Fitzgerald, nds, Dublin, Bat Kol alum 2015, 2018