Lent – when “staying” and “going” merge in Christ

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Second Sunday in Lent-C, 13 March 2022
Genesisn15:5-2, 17-18 ><}}}*> Philippinas 3:17-4:1 ><}}}*> Luke 9:28-36
Spring blooming of poppies in Galilee near the Nazareth, against the background biblical Mount Tabor, Israel, from iStockphoto.com.

From the desert where Jesus was tempted by the devil last Sunday, Luke now takes us on top of Mount Tabor for the Lord’s Transfiguration.

In the Bible, the mountain is like the desert that signifies a deeper reality and meaning. It is more than a place that shows communion and oneness with God, indicating an inner ascent within us to unite with God especially in this season of Lent.

And like in the temptation of Jesus in the desert last Sunday, it is very interesting how Luke tells us again two important details not mentioned by Mark and Matthew in their versions of the Lord’s Transfiguration:

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Luke 9:28-31

First, only Luke tells us the reason why Jesus went up the mountain which is to pray. Here we find that the transfiguration of Jesus is a prayer event. That is why we need to pray always because prayer transfigures us like Jesus Christ.

Second, as Jesus transfigured while praying, only Luke informs us the topic Moses and Elijah discussed with the Lord which is his coming “exodus” or passion, death, and resurrection on Good Friday. When we pray, the more we accept and embrace the Cross that truly transfigures us into becoming like Jesus Christ.

But the problem is, we always refuse and avoid prayer because it is always difficult to pray. Prayer is a discipline. Despite its being a grace from God to be able to pray which he freely gives to each one of us, it is gift that also requires from us total surrender and consistency.

Prayer does not necessarily change things like stop calamities or sickness; prayer primarily changes the person, enabling us to respond properly to problems, trials and sufferings that come to us; hence, prayer in itself is an exodus, a pasch that leads us to transfiguration.

Usually, when we pray we feel nothing is happening, that it is a “waste” of time, of being “idle” in one place that could have been used to other productive activities like fixing one’s problems. But it is in prayer when we first experience how “staying” and “going” merge to become one in Jesus Christ.

This we find in the only detail that Luke shared with Matthew and Mark when Peter woke up and saw Jesus transfigured, conversing with Moses and Elijah.

As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying.

Luke 9:33
Photo from commons.wikimedia.org, mosaic inside the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, Israel.

The Transfiguration, a preview of Christ’s glory via his pasch

Very often in life, we want every beautiful and good experience we have to be preserved, wishing they would never end, like Peter asking Jesus if they could just stay on top of the mountain to keep their “cloud nine” experience.

On the other hand, we are quick to beg Jesus to end soonest every pain and suffering, trials and difficulties we are going through in life that if possible, have them erased or deleted from our memories too!

For us, “staying” and “going” are opposites but Jesus is telling us in his transfiguration that these two come together.

In his transfiguration, Jesus is telling us that discipleship is both “staying” and “going” in him. It is only in Christ that we can “keep” the good time of being one with him while we “passover” from life’s many darkness, trials and sufferings by remaining one with him.

After assuring us last Sunday that we can overcome life’s many temptations through him, Jesus tells us today that our transfiguration and glory can only come through the Cross like him. Before Easter comes, there is Good Friday first.

At his transfiguration, Jesus showed us that his divinity belongs with the Cross and cannot be separated because that is his identity as the Suffering Messiah whose glory and pasch are always together. Hence, his transfiguration was the “preview” to his coming glory whereby he remained one in the Father in prayer expressed perfectly in his exodus on Good Friday which Moses and Elijah discussed with him on Mount Tabor.

Recall that his transfiguration occurred after he was recognized by Peter as the Christ while they were at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus also bared for the first time to the Twelve his coming passion, death and resurrection. It was also at that time when Jesus laid to the Twelve the very foundations of discipleship in him which is to forget one’s self, take up one’s cross daily, and follow him.

From Caesarea in Philippi, Jesus and the Twelve made a U-turn to go back to Jerusalem with a stop-over at Mount Tabor for his transfiguration where he reiterated his teachings about himself and his mission. See that during the transfiguration as Peter, James, and John watched in awe, they were frightened when a voice was heard from the cloud that declared “this is my chosen one; listen to him” (v.35).

And what do we hear from Jesus after his transfiguration? His two other predictions of his coming passion, death and resurrection plus his repeated calls to everyone to deny one’s self, to take up one’s cross daily and to come follow him!

It is interesting to note that while the fourth gospel does not have this story of the transfiguration, John rightly refers to the Crucifixion as the “exaltation” of Jesus Christ – his going down, his suffering and dying on the Cross is actually his rising to glory!

The same thing is true to us disciples of Jesus.

Photo from custodia.org, Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, Israel.

Staying and going in Christ, with Christ

The grace of this second Sunday in Lent when we hear every year the story of Christ’s transfiguration is his assurance of his love for us by going through his exodus which is his self-offering on the Cross.

The question is not whether we should stay or go but are we willing to both stay and go in Jesus, with Jesus? Discipleship is remaining in Jesus, going with Jesus up to the Cross!

According to Luke, Peter, James, and John did not tell to anyone what they saw and heard on Mount Tabor. Like Mary, they kept everything in their hearts as they remained with Jesus, going with him in all his journeys especially at the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested, listening to his words and teachings, witnessing and experiencing his many healings and exorcisms including his passion and death from afar except for John.

They never fully understood everything they saw and heard from Jesus until the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day but, their “staying” and “going” with him transfigured them without realizing how the Lord was already transforming them inside.

The same thing happens to us when we “stay” and “remain” in Jesus through prayers and reflections of the Sacred Scriptures, through the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, through the guidance of other faithful disciples like our family and friends who witness Christ to us with their living examples. Akala natin wala namang nangyayari pero mayroon palagi dahil kasama natin ang Panginoon!

As we stay in the glorious presence of Jesus in prayers and penance, the more we go forward in our dying to self and rising to life in our loving service to everyone, in our kindness, in our patience and understanding, and in our mercy and forgiveness. When we offer ourselves wholly to Jesus, he does everything like what God did to the animals offered by Abraham in the first reading. Notice how Abraham on that night fell into a trance as if he could not believe what was happening while in the presence of the Lord. Palagi naman ganoon sa harap ng Diyos – nakakapangilabot, nakakatakot kasi totoong-totoo!

Lent is not just a preparation for Easter but also a journey for us all to purify and renew and rekindle our faith in Christ’s resurrection by remaining in him, ascending with him through mountains of sacrifices, and being tested in the desert of temptations.

These 40 days of Lent involve many stopovers where we are invited to examine our hearts, our inner selves to see who is inside us, of who are we dwelling with, of who we are going with. Let us heed Paul’s call in the second reading to “stand firm in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1) because our “citizenship is in heaven and Jesus will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil. 3:20, 21).

Let me end this reflection with a quote I got and memorized as a child waiting in our former family dentist, Dr. Eddie Calalec of Meycauayan, Bulacan:

Time is fast for those who rush;
Time is slow for those who waith;
Time is not for those who Love.

Have a blessed week and please say a prayer for me on Wednesday (March 16) when I go through a surgery. Thank you and God bless you!

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