Lectio Divina for 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 28, 2021
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
“This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This time the Father says, “Listen to him,” while calling him by the same title, “My beloved son”. It’s important to keep these two verses connected. The Father tells us to listen to his son not only because he is his son, but also because the Father is pleased with him. We ought to follow Christ because he does the will of the Father. Without this connection, one can claim that the Father is just ordaining Jesus by some divine rite, or divine right. But the Father’s words are all the more relevant when we consider that the son obeys the Father, and this pleases the Father. Similarly, if one were to read Matthew 3:17, while not reading on to the Transfiguration, one could assume that the Father’s words at Christ’s baptism are just sentimental or typical of a relationship between a father and a son. Rather, God is saying that he sent his only son, not only to die for our sins but also to show the way to him. Listening to Christ is the way to God not only because he is God’s son, but also because God is pleased with his son. This is why Christ expects the same of us, saying “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you,” (John 15:9) and “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
He hardly knew what to say. They were so terrified.
With depictions of Jesus in the loving arms of children and walking calmly beside a believer along the seashore, it’s easy to forget how terrifying God actually is. Colloquial English has lost touch with the true meaning of “terrific”, and “awesome”. The former comes from the Latin word terrere, which means “to frighten”. The latter has a similar root as the word “awful”. In Old English, it’s agheful, which means, “"worthy of respect or fear, striking with awe; causing dread”. The old understanding of these words placed in people’s minds the idea of something that could be wonderful but also feared. Today we’ve watered down words like “awesome” and “terrific”, and this has led us to--in part--forget how awesome, awe-inspiring, and terrific God is. God is awesome and not awful, terrific but not terrible--but only because our understanding of those words have created false dichotomies. Proverbs 9:10 tells us fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Peter and the apostles were right to fear the Lord, and to want to build tents. In the presence of such splendor, fearful reverence is the proper response. Do we approach the Lord at Communion with the same fearful reverence?
They no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them
It’s noteworthy that these words come after the Father’s proclamation, “This is my beloved son …” as if to affirm even more that he’s not talking about Elijah or Moses. Shortly before the Transfiguration, Jesus took the apostles to Caesaria Philippi, the place where Herod the Great built a temple to Augustus Caesar. Many people claimed that Caesar was a god, so the question Jesus asked his apostles here was incredibly relevant, considering the backdrop. Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” The apostles replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus asks again, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus then blesses Peter and makes him the head of the Church on earth. But Christ does even better. It’s not enough that Peter called him the Christ. He backs up Peter’s faith, showing him that it is not in vain, when he takes him—along with James and John—up the Mountain of the Transfiguration., Mount Tabor. There he stood with Elijah and Moses as if to say, “I am neither of these people, as some people suppose.” And then God the Father reveals that Jesus alone is the Son of God. Not Moses, not Elijah, and definitely not Caesar, but Jesus, the only one standing with the three apostles once the Transfiguration is finished.
He charged them not to relate to anyone what they had seen.
Why does Jesus keep doing this? Why doesn’t he want the glory of his kingdom to be known just yet? Meditating on this leads one to fathom the precision of God’s plan. Not only does he have the perfect solution to save us and free us from sin through the death and resurrection of his son. He also has a precise time in which it has to happen. He has it all laid out beforehand down to the donkey he will ride into Jerusalem. When we read verses like this one, we should think of God as a family member or friend going forth making plans for the perfect birthday party for us, or plans for some other perfect gift. He then tells everyone involved in the planning, other friends and relatives, to make sure that they keep it a secret to prevent word from getting out too soon. It has to be just right. That’s how much God cares about our salvation, the ultimate gift to all of us.
They kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant
We know the story, so it’s easy for us to say, “How oblivious can the apostles be?” But how often do we walk away from Mass not understanding what they Scriptures mean, even though we have read them or heard them probably at least a dozen times? The apostle’s confoundedness is not based on lack of understanding, but lack of faith. They question what Jesus is saying because they don’t believe he can rise from the dead; not simply because they don’t believe in him, but more so because they don’t believe rising from the dead is possible despite all the miracles by Jesus they have witnessed.
Lord Jesus, we can only walk in faith. The wonders you show to us have no explanation and leave us confounded. We are not equipped to even understand the basic inevitability of death, and yet here you are offering us life after death. Give us faith to accept this gift, and all the mysteries you’ve revealed to us while calling us to accept them in faith. Only in that way can we come to any understanding of the glory that awaits us, the glory which you only revealed a small piece of in your transfiguration. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Peter added nothing to the Transfiguration with his words on Mt. Tabor, but he didn’t take away any of Christ’s glory by speaking either. Contemplate how God is God whether or not we speak. You have read his Word. You have meditated on it. Now let it rest on your soul as you listen to what God wants to say through it.
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