To see with the eyes of faith

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2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C: Feb. 24, 2013
Gen 15:5-12, 17-18; Ps 27; Phil 3:17–4:1; Luke 9:28-36

In our Gospel reading today, we hear the account of the event we call the Transfiguration of the Lord—as we do each year on this Second Sunday of Lent. Why does the Church present this event to us each year at this time? And to answer that, we will do well to ask first: Why did the event happen at all? Why was Jesus transfigured in appearance before the eyes of three of his disciples?

Immediately before this reading in the Gospel according to Luke, in the middle of chapter 9, our Lord Jesus asked his disciples about whether they know who he is. And St. Peter confessed that he is the Messiah of God. And immediately Jesus began to explain to them that he would have to “suffer greatly and be rejected… and be killed and on the third day be raised.” And he added to this: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (9:20-23)

Now this was a terrible thing for the disciples to hear. Terrible, awful, not at all what they expected! This was not a promise of earthly triumph and power and glory; but of earthly pain and defeat, for him and for them. In the accounts in the other two Gospels, we hear that St. Peter tried to correct him! (Matt 16:22; Mark 8:32) And if it was that hard to hear, how hard would it be for them to see—for them to see, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, their Lord captured and insulted, stripped and scourged, spat upon and forced to carry his cross; the blood, the thorns, the nails, the spear; and finally his lifeless body placed in the cold tomb?—and his call to them to be willing to undergo the same thing?

There was the real danger that this would be too much for them to bear, and that their resolve would crack and they would forsake him and his call utterly, before they saw him risen on the third day. And so it was to strengthen them, to be able to bear those coming trials, that this miracle of the Transfiguration was given to them. For when their eyes saw only blood and nails and pain—then, with eyes of faith, they needed to be able to see much more. They needed to be able to see further, to see deeper, to grasp what was really going on spiritually, underneath and within those physical events.

And so the experience of the Transfiguration of the Lord was given to them:

  • His face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white—which recalled for them the great apocalyptic vision of the prophet Daniel, of the Ancient One and One like a son of man. (Dan 7:9-14)
  • They saw Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory,
    conversing with him. Moses represented the Law, and Elijah all the prophets—together, the symbols of all of the truth and holiness of their religious heritage—now present before their eyes, speaking with Jesus.
  • And they were speaking to him about his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem—pointing out to them that his passion and death would accomplish something like the Exodus from Egypt some 1400 years earlier, when the Lord rescued his People from slavery and brought them to the Promised Land—indeed, something much greater than that.
  • A cloud came over them and indeed enveloped them—the cloud that had long signified the very Presence of the Lord, in an awesome and even terrifying way.
  • And not only did the cloud of the Lord’s presence envelop them, but they heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

It was unforgettable. And surely, when the day came that they saw with their eyes only blood and suffering and death, they still saw with the eyes of faith dazzling light and Moses and Elijah and the cloud of the Lord’s presence and his commanding voice; and they knew that more was going on than they could see physically. Thus St. Peter writes in his second letter:

We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty… We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Pet 1:16-19)

And this is why the Church guides us to the Transfiguration every Second Sunday of Lent. Because we too need to see beyond the surface.

  • Behind every event that happens in our world, we need to see the guiding hand of God, both causing and permitting, in such a way that all things, even bad things, work for good for those who love him. (Rom 8:28)
  • When we look at our Lord Jesus, we need to see not only a man put to death on a cross by the Roman Empire 2000 years ago, but our Divine Savior who triumphed over death and freed us from sin, to give us eternal life.
  • When we look at ourselves, we need to see not only what the world sees—in our appearance and possessions and abilities and faults—but also the son or daughter of God, adopted and transformed in baptism, and called to become a saint.
  • When we look at others around us, we need to see not only their superficial appearance and habits, but how profoundly the Lord loves them as well and desires that they be close to him, both now and in eternity.
  • When we look at our daily habits, at home and at work and in the neighborhood, we need to see not only the tasks we carry out and the things we use, but also the opportunity to make an eternal difference in the lives of others as we show true love to them, including communicating the Gospel.
  • When we look at the things we suffer, we need to see not only our discomfort and pain, but the opportunity to unite these with the sacrifice of Christ, for our own growth in holiness and the salvation of the world.

And of course the list could go on. For in this Lent, as in every Lent, Christ calls us through his Church to see beneath the surface; to take stock, as we choose special acts of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer; and to realign our lives according to the truth that we see once again. As St. Peter told us, “You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” And as the Father said to the disciples on that day, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

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