Lent 2 C - Transfiguration

From the Connections:

“Les Miserables”
The epic film Les Miserables, based on the Victor Hugo novel and the international stage sensation, is a story of grace and redemption, of compassion and mercy.
The story begins with a simple but profound moment of forgiveness.  Jean Valjean has been imprisoned for stealing a small loaf of bread to feed his sister’s daughter.  Paroled after 20 years of hard labor and brutal treatment, Valjean is a broken, bitter man.  He is desperate for work but no one will hire a parolee.  Cold and hungry, he is taken in by a kindly bishop.  During the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver plate and flees, but he is quickly taken into custody by the local police.  The constables bring Valjean to the bishop’s residence and ask the bishop to identify the thief and his silver.  Indeed it is his silver, the Monseigneur says — but the bishop explains that he gave Valjean the silver.  He thanks the police for bringing Valjean to him because he was concerned that Valjean forget to take the valuable candlesticks, as well.

Valjean is stunned by the bishop’s extraordinary kindness and forgiveness.  The bishop only asks Valjean to use the silver to re-create his life and return God’s goodness to others.  “God has raised you out of darkness,” the bishop blesses Valjean. “I have bought your soul for God.”
It is a moment of transformation for Valjean, who rediscovers within himself the love and mercy that led him to steal bread for his hungry niece.  As he turns the cache of silver into a fortune that will benefit many, Valjean comes to realize that “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

The kindness of the bishop is a moment of transfiguration for Valjean:  As the three disciples behold the divinity that radiates from the vision of Jesus on the mountaintop, Valjean realizes the ember of God’s goodness that has continued to burn within him despite the brutality and cruelty of his two decades in prison.  That same touch of divinity exists within each one of us, as well:  God is present within us, animating us to do good and holy things; guiding our steps as we try to walk justly and humbly in the ways of God; enlightening our vision with wisdom and selflessness to bring the justice and mercy of God into our world.  The challenge of discipleship is to allow the love of God within us to “transfigure” despair into hope, sadness into joy, anguish into healing, estrangement into community.  
From Fr. Jude Botelho: Transfiguration from Mk

The first reading from the book of Genesis speaks of the test of faith of Abraham the father in faith of all believers. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, Israel recognized its own destiny. How often Israel itself was laid on the altar of sacrifice entirely at the mercy of God. In the face of all tests the only saving attitude is that of Abraham: “Here I am Lord!” Living among the Canaanites who practiced human sacrifice, we see his agonizing effort to do what he thought God wanted of him. Abraham’s great faith was rewarded. As we enter deeper and deeper into the Lenten observances we need to realize that God is calling us to a profound surrender of our lives into his hands.

Victim or Victor
Charles Rayburn has been a victim of cerebral palsy since his birth. His only means of communication was an electric typewriter which he strikes with a stylus attached to a band around his head. In spite of his palsy, Charles Rayburn has published 37 articles in national magazines. One of his articles appeared in America magazine and dealt with the Stations of the Cross. Charles Rayburn is a living example of today’s reading about Isaac and Jesus. These three figures and the three readings are tied together by a triple theme –the theme of Sonship, death and deliverance.
- Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’
The second reading is obviously linked to the first reading. It shows us the depth of God’s love for us. God did not spare his only Son but gave him up for us. In Isaac’s place there was a ram that was offered to God. In Jesus’ place there was no substitute, such was the depth of God’s love for us. Paul reminds the Romans that with God on our side we have nothing and no one to fear. “When God acquits us who can condemn us?” We can never doubt the mercy and goodness of our God. In today’s gospel the account of the transfiguration gives us some insight into the mystery of Jesus, Son of God, the new Moses to whom we must listen. The transfiguration is an epiphany story. Epiphany stories were common in ancient writings about holy people. This is the earliest epiphany story about Jesus, where the veil is lifted and his apostles were given a glimpse of his future glory. The chief significance of this event was for Jesus himself. It was meant to confirm him in the course he had undertaken. But it also benefited the apostles, and it is this that Mark emphasizes. On the mountain Elijah and Moses appeared to them representing the prophets and the law respectively. Thus Jesus is seen as bringing the law and the prophets to fulfillment. We do not know what exactly happened on that mountain but it seems Jesus had an intense experience of the presence of God. He heard those marvelous words: “You are my beloved son.” On Tabor Jesus felt comforted and affirmed. He knew that the Father was pleased with him and would give him all the strength he would need to face whatever lay ahead. With God on his side he could face anything. At times life could be dark for us and we too need to hear those reassuring words: “You are my son the beloved, my favour rests on you!” People from time to time do affirm us, but their affirmation is conditional. “You are good but you need to change this behaviour…. You are good but only if you live up to my expectations!” Only God affirms us exactly as he affirmed his son Jesus. With him there are no terms and conditions, even if we are sinners and have failed him. We will always remain the well beloved sons and daughters of God. Jean Vanier has set up communities for the mentally handicapped. He tells how in one of these communities there is a man called Pierre who has a mental handicap. One day somebody asked Pierre, “Do you like praying?” “Yes”, he answered. “And what do you do when you pray?” the questionnaire asked. “I listen,” Pierre answered. “And what does God say to you? “He says, “Pierre, you are my beloved son.” Though we know and believe that God loves us, yet from time to time we need his assurance, we need the transfiguration experience. As Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem, he knew what was in store for him. He met with a lot of opposition from the religious leaders and ultimately they would put him to death. Naturally he would recoil from such a harsh experience. He needed to be affirmed and he ascended the mountain in the company of his disciples to pray and commune with His Father about the fearful future. Instead of giving up in fear he ascends the mountain to be closer to God. On that mountain the Father affirmed him. That same Father is waiting for us to come to him to be affirmed as his well beloved sons and daughters. Our problem is that as soon as we run into trouble our faith fails us. We think that God has abandoned us. But if we pray we will realize that God has not abandoned us, He is always with us. Like Jesus on Tabor we too can experience being affirmed by God, we too can be transformed by the power of his spirit, if only we let Him into our lives.

“Pigeon Feathers”
John Updike wrote a short story called “Pigeon Feathers.” It’s about a young boy, David, who begins to have doubts about his faith. One night in bed David is thinking about his problem. Suddenly he decides upon a bold experiment. He takes his hands from under the covers, lifts them above his head, and asks Jesus to touch them. As David waits breathlessly, he thinks he feels something touch his hands; not sure if they have been touched or not. We can all relate to David in this scene. We too experience times when our faith seems to disappear or go behind a cloud. When this happens, we long desperately for a sign that God is real and that Jesus is the Son of God. Or to put it in another way, we long for a sign of Jesus’ glory, like the one Peter, James and John received in today’s gospel.
- Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

1: Transformation of minerals into pearls, gems and precious stones:

Precious stones like the diamond, emerald, ruby and sapphire, are the most valuable of all commodities. The most expensive gem Alexandrite costs $30, 000 per carat. Pearls are less costly. All these precious stones are the result of years of transformation or transfiguration. But today’s gospel describes Christ’s instant transfiguration revealing his divine glory surpassing the beauty of the most expensive gems. Most pearls are produced by oysters or some other mollusks in both freshwater and saltwater environments. Natural pearls are formed when a foreign object enters an oyster’s shell. To defend the oyster, layer after layer of calcium carbonate (nacre) along with other minerals grow and form like onionskins around the particle. Gradually the foreign objects are transformed into pearls which are very rare and expensive. Like natural pearls, cultured pearls grow inside an oyster, but with human intervention. Shells are carefully opened and different shapes of beads are inserted. Over time, the inserted beads become transformed by coats of nacre, which makes a pearl appear to glow inside and gives it a beautiful shine. The most valuable gems come from crystallized minerals that have formed under heat and pressure deep inside the earth for millions of years. Diamonds are formed far under the earth where the heat and pressure are very intense. Under these conditions the carbon atoms line up perfectly and a diamond crystal is born. Today’s readings challenge us to radiate the glory of the transfigured Jesus by renewing our lives by the observance of Lent.

2: The transforming vision of Elisha’s servant:  

There is a mysterious story in II Kings that can help us understand what is happening in the transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram and Elisha the man of God is using his prophetic powers to reveal to the Israelites the strategic plans of the Aramean army. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy. But when he learns the truth, he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha's servant is the first to discover that they are trapped and he fears for his master's safety. He runs to Elisha and says, "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" The prophet answers "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." But who would believe that when the surrounding mountainside is covered with advancing enemy troops? So Elisha prays, "O Lord, open his eyes so he may see." Then the Lord opens the servant's eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha's disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe but the invading army was totally humiliated. The transfiguration scene described in today’s gospel was intended to have a similar effect on Peter and the other apostles who were really afraid for their master’s safety in the context of growing hatred against and opposition to Jesus.

3: “Lord, give me the grace for transformation.”

The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance. Biologists call it metamorphosis (derived from the Greek word metamorphoomai used in Matthew’s gospel) to describe the change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. As children we might have curiously watched the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly.  Fr. Anthony de Mello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man.  'I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: “Lord, give me the grace to change the world.” As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: “Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.”  Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been.  My one prayer now is: “Lord, give me the grace to change myself.”  If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.'

4: The old farmer from the countryside who was visiting a big city for the first time with his son, stood speechless before the elevator of a big hotel, watching in wonder, as an old woman got into the elevator and, within minutes, a beautiful young woman came out. He called out to his son who was registering at the reception. “Son, put your mother into that miracle machine immediately. It will transform her into a beautiful young lady.”
5: At the transfiguration Peter offered to build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Jesus said, "And what about you, Peter?" And Peter replies, "Don't worry about me Lord, I got a better place in Jaffa."
6. Does a fast-food nation get the church it deserves, or demands . . . . a fast-food church? Not if Lent has anything to do with it.  

Have you noticed that all the big fast food chains are touting their great new fish menus in the past couple of weeks?

McDonald's Fish McBites.
Wendy's Alaskan Pollack sandwiches.
Red Lobster's LobsterFest.
Popeye's Shrimp baskets.  

Economically it is a "down time." No big holidays this month and downright cold and wintery most places. The big chain restaurants are going to try and capitalize on anything they can. That includes Lent.

"Giving up" something for Lent has long meant, giving up rich goodies. Besides chocolate, red meat has always been near the top of that list. If you are old enough to remember those who only ate "fish on Friday," you can understand the sudden oceanic bent of McDonald's and Wendy's and other fast-food chains. If people of faith are "giving up" something for Lent, God-forbid that such a commitment should include "giving up" dining out at a fast food restaurant! Give them fast-food fish instead!

But Lent is not just a season of winnowing down, of doing without, of "giving up." In today's epistle text Paul reminds his readers that following Christ is about living as life as an advocate, as a positive force, not as an enemy, of the cross...
7. The World of the Prophet   

What would you do if someone gave you one million dollars and then told you to come back as often as you liked and you could have whatever money you needed whenever you wanted? Just ask and it is yours. What if he told you to tell all your friends and they could also come and have a million dollars? Do you think you would tell your friends? Do you think you would show up regularly to receive more from this very wealthy and very generous person?  

What would you think if you told your friends and they had you arrested? What would you think if people said you were an idiot for getting money from this generous person? What if people killed you for telling them about this person who was giving away free money? Would you expect people to accuse you of being narrow minded when you told people that they couldn't get free money from any other person? Would you expect people to say things like, "You know if we get our money every week, we won't really appreciate it?" Would you expect people to hunt down this very wealthy, very generous person and kill him?  

Welcome to the world of the prophet. If you were to take my recent examples and replace the money with forgiveness, you would exactly describe the insanity that faces the prophet, the apostle, and all the messengers of God. God wants to cover us in His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation and for some reason, that makes people angry.

James T. Batchelor
8. In the Form of a Man

The Hindu temple is built in the form of a man. The outer court raised on pillars and open on all sides is the human body, the inner court with its wide spaces is the human mind, the shrine room is the human soul. Man moves within himself into himself and there finds the presence of God.  

The Muslim mosque, too, is built in the form of a man. The central dome is man's head and the minarets are his hands upraised in prayer. Man comes to God through an act of adoration and submission. The Buddhist dogoba, too, is built in the form of a man. Its figure is that of a man in the posture of meditation: legs crossed the body erect, and the head held straight and unmoving. The approach to reality is by way of inner withdrawal from the world. 

The Christian church, too, is built in the form of a man, a man stretched out

upon a cross. And this has made all the difference. The church does not ask its followers to find their way, or to discover truth within. The church says one man, Jesus of Nazareth is that way, is the truth. He is life. We put our faith in him knowing  

Brett Blair
9. Three Questions  

Jaques Maritain, the great French philosopher of the last century, said there were really only three questions that had to be answered: "Who am I?" "Where am I?" and "Where ought I to be going?" Jesus knew who he was, and where he was, and where he had to go. Lincoln knew. So have all great leaders and great men and women of faith known. Do we know? Or are we out of focus, our goals fuzzy and ill-defined? Our world is so insane, but not any more so than the world of Jesus. Most people in his day, went to work every day, and came home, and were pulled this way and that. And they didn't ask the big questions very often. We remember Jesus because he did.

William R. Boyer, As a Hen Gathers Her Brood

10. Rejection and Refusal to Listen 

Robert Fulton, an artist and engineer was responsible in the early 1800's for putting sailing ships out of business. He made the steamboat a standard on the open seas. It is said that he presented his idea to Napoleon. After a few minutes of this presentation Napoleon is reported to have said, "What, sir, you would make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her decks? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense." 

Brett Blair
11. The Old Mother Hen

Have you ever seen a chicken hawk go after its prey? The old mother hen is often aware of the presence of the hawk in time to gather her chicks under her wing. With a furious fuss she squawks till her brood is safe by her side. She fluffs out her wings and protects them with her own body. The chicken hawk dives and the old hen turns her body toward him and cocks a wary eye without moving from her children. The predator comes in again for the kill and the mother spreads her wings even wider. A third time he dives only to be thwarted by the determined self-sacrifice of the mother hen. She is too big to be a target and the chicks are too safe to be seized so he flies away.

Brett Blair
12. Shelter

In Mission, British Columbia, a fellow by the name of Ike tells the story about his Grandpa's hen house which burned to the ground one day. Ike arrived just in time to help put out the last of the fire. As he and his grandfather sorted through the wreckage, they came upon one hen lying dead near what had been the door of the hen house. Her top feathers were singed brown by the fire's heat, her neck limp. Ike bent down to pick up the dead hen. As he did the hen's four chicks came scurrying out from beneath her burnt body. The chicks survived because they were insulated by the shelter of the hen's wings.

Richard J. Fairchild
13. Compassion for the Suffering 

In England in the 1940s a young woman entered Oxford University with little focus. She had no idea what to do with her life. But she soon came under the influence of a colorful professor of English, a writer with a gift, named C. S. Lewis. She became a Christian through much of his influence.

She left Oxford, against the advice of friends and family, and began to study nursing. After five more years of rigorous training, she was certified as a nurse. 
But her story doesn't end there, for her questing Christian spirit would not let her rest with the way things were. You see, she ended up working on a cancer ward in a London hospital. Gradually, she came to realize that most of the doctors ignored the patients who were deemed terminally ill. As a result she watched many of them die virtually alone.
Greatly troubled she felt that Christian compassion needed to be expressed to these patients in a visible way...