Love Transfigures, Sin Disfigures

Feb 25, 2018

 

February 23, 2018
by Fr. Rich Jones
There is nothing permanent except change. 
                              — Heraclitus (535-475 BC) 
                                   Greek philosopher
              
On this Second Sunday of Lent, we continue our penitential journey as we reflect on the  Transfiguration on the Mount Tabor. 

 Last week we recalled Jesus’ temptation in the desert at the beginning of his earthly ministry; this week we see him on a mountain as that ministry nears its culmination. One scene shows him at his most human, the other reveals his eternal glory. These two Sundays are the pillars of Lent. Indeed, they are the entire structure of the Christian life, which consists in the paschal dynamism: from death to life. 

In Scripture, the mountain is God’s reserved place, the prime site for Israel’s encounters with God. People choose mountain retreats as places of prayer. Mountain air and far horizons help us to see God, hear his voice and put God’s marvelous works into perspective. 

            Jesus is transfigured on one mountain – Tabor – and ascends from another -- the Mount of Olives. Between those two mountains are sites of his agony in Gethsemane and his crucifixion and death on Mount Calvary. Only the Resurrection will reconcile all the mountains into one reality of Jesus Christ, dead, risen and forever robed in unimaginable glory at God’s right hand. 

During this holy season of Lent, the Church invites and challenges each of us to follow Christ by climbing each of these mountains – Tabor, Olivet and Calvary. 

            The first is Tabor. Scripture tells us that Jesus took Peter, James and John up to a high mountain where he was transfigured so that his glory was revealed. His face and garment became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah conversed with Jesus, showing that he was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. A voice from the heavens said “ This is my beloved Son . . .  Listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). 

On Tabor, the disciples got a foretaste of the life to come, when our lowly bodies will be changed to be like his glorious, heavenly Body. But just as they had to climb the mountain to witness that brief transfiguration, they would face many trials before their own, eternal transfiguration. As St. Paul taught, “ We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). 

          The story of the Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration is that of Jesus close followers, who believed they knew him well, only to be overwhelmed by a powerful experience of his true power and glory. As they contemplate him, while bathed in heavenly light, they yearn for this experience to continue. Peter blurts out, “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here” (Matthew 17:4). As the disciples see the beautiful, radiant face of Jesus, there is not a thing they would change. They suddenly perceive that he is not just their friend, not just a great teacher, but that he is truly the Son of God, fully human and fully divine. 

          Yet Jesus warns them that others will not understand this until his mission on Earth is fulfilled. As the disciples were coming down the mountain, Jesus said, “Tell no one . . . until I am raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). 

Last week I wrote about Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the desert. That temptation and the Transfiguration together anticipate the Paschal Mystery: Jesus’ struggle with the Tempter foreshadows the great final duel of the Passion, while the light of his transfigured Body anticipates the glory of the Resurrection. 

When Satan tempted Jesus in the garden, we see that Jesus was fully man, sharing with us even temptation, but he did not sin. And today we contemplate Him as the Son of God who divinizes our humanity through the atoning glory of his death and Resurrection. When we are truly repentant for our sins, then the Precious Blood he shed on the cross washes them away and makes us pure so that we can enter into God’s presence forever. His glory and our salvation were  achieved by embracing the shame of the Cross. Jesus kissed the Cross in order to bring all of us into the glory of heaven. 

In Jesus’ transfigured glory we see that eternal life with God will rob death of its power. Transfiguration can be understood as the sacrament of our future resurrection from the dead, because it was a visible foretaste of the resurrection we will one day experience. Through the grace of Baptism we share in the Resurrection of Jesus. The Transfiguration shows us how our lowly bodies will be changed to be like his glorious, heavenly Body. 

            But how do we begin to experience that transformation in this life? Love is the key. By this I mean unselfish love not only for friends and family, but for strangers, for our enemies and especially for God. 

Love transfigures us by making us attractive and beautiful; whereas sin disfigures us, making us repulsive. We have all witnessed this. Someone who is physically appealing, and who may be materially successful, may also be selfish and cruel. Their character destroys their beauty. On the other hand, we have all known people who were physically unattractive by Hollywood standards, yet whose kindness and mercy revealed a beauty far deeper than that found on the cover of a fashion magazine. 

Let us see Jesus’ face through his Word, his Church, his sacraments and his people. As we gather in faith to be transfixed, transfigured and transformed by the Word of the Lord and the sacrament of the Eucharist, we receive a foretaste and pledge of the Eternal Banquet in Glory. That sacrament gives us the strength to love. 

Let us praise the transfiguredcrucified and risenglorified body of Christ on this 6-week pilgrimage. Join me in praying, You will the salvation of all peoples, O Lord. Through this season of Lent, touch the hearts of the needy, the hardened, the proud, and the penitent with your transforming love. 

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