March 4, 2012
Second Sunday of Lent
Today's gospel brings us a story about the illumination of Jesus on a mountaintop in the presence of his closest disciples, Peter, James and John. Tradition tells us that this mountaintop was Mt. Tabor. However, the name of the mountain is not given in any account of the Transfiguration and so we are invited to ponder the symbolic significance of this major event in the ministry of Jesus.
The illumination of Jesus has traditionally been interpreted as a light from heaven to show divine approval of his mission after he has just announced to his disciples that "the Son of man must suffer many things" (8:31). This creates a problem, however, because only three of the disciples are present and future developments do not show that they were reassured. It is far more likely that the light is coming from within Jesus as his face glows in a full awareness of the surprising nature of the mission that his heavenly Father has assigned to him.
In this moment of mystical experience, Jesus also hears a voice from heaven, which repeats the words heard at baptism but then adds, "Listen to him" (v. 7). This suggests that he is now prepared to share the ultimate wisdom of God, namely, that loving and sacrificing are the only way to conquer sin and death…and thus to enter into resurrection glory.
There is something very comforting about the fact that Jesus experienced a kind of mystical illumination that was followed by his direct movement to Jerusalem and the climax of his mission as our Savior. For this reminds us that we too need to reexamine the basic orientation of our lives and to ask whether we are willing to adopt the wisdom of Jesus which counsels us to put aside the dominant quest for satisfaction and security in this life and to accept a new way of living that is marked by a desire to be of service to others.
We may think that this means nothing but self-denial, but the fact is that those who seek the happiness of others more than their own satisfaction turn out to be the happiest people of all. This doesn't mean becoming a doormat or catering to obsessive dependants, but it does mean that we are sensitive to others and truly committed to their welfare. This daily "dying" leads to ultimate resurrection life. It is also an excellent way to keep the spirit of Lent.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.