Readings Gn 15:5-12,17-18; Phil 3:20-4:1; Lk 9:28-36
Theme Jesus’ transfiguration and his agony are complementary
episodes. They highlight the divine and the human dimensions of Jesus.
A movie called Mask is based on a true story of a 16-year-old boy named Rocky Dennis.
He has a rare disease that causes his skull and the bones in his face to grow larger than they should.
As a result, Rocky’s face is terribly misshapen and disfigured. His grotesque appearance causes some people to shy away from him, and others to snicker and laugh at him. Through it all, Rocky never pities himself. Nor does he give way to anger. He feels bad about his appearance, but he accepts it as a part of life. One day Rocky and some of his friends visit an amusement park. They go into a “house of mirrors” and begin to laugh at how distorted their bodies and faces look. Suddenly Rocky sees something that startles him. One mirror distorts his misshapen face in such a way that it appears normal- even strikingly handsome. For the first time, Rocky’s friends see him in a whole new way. They see from the outside what he is on the inside: a truly beautiful person.
Something like this happens to Jesus in today’s gospel.
During his transfiguration, Jesus’ disciples saw him in a whole new way. For the first time they saw from the outside what he is on the inside: the glorious, beautiful Son of God.
This raises a question.
Why is the transfiguration of Jesus placed among the Lenten readings, which are usually somber, instead of among the Easter readings, which usually deal with the glory of Jesus?
The answer to this question lies in the context in which we find the transfiguration in the Gospel.
It occurred right after Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.
When Peter heard Jesus say this, he cried out, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Jesus then said to Peter:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Matthew 16:22-23
Peter, James, and John probably needed a spiritual shot in the arm after that shocking experience.
Perhaps that’s also why the Church puts the transfiguration in its Lenten readings. The Church wants to give us a shot in the arm before it turns our attention to the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday. But there’s another reason why the transfiguration is placed among the Lenten readings.
It’s because the transfiguration bears a striking similarity to the agony in the garden.
Like the agony in the garden, which took place on a mountain— the Mount of Olives, the transfiguration also took place on a mountain—Mount Tabor.
And like the agony in the garden, the transfiguration was witnessed by only three disciples: Peter, James, and John. And like the agony in the garden, which took place at night, the transfiguration also took place at night. And in both instances the disciples fell asleep while Jesus remained awake, praying.
Finally, and here’s the important reason, the two events—
the agony and the transfiguration— complement each other.
On Mount Tabor the three disciples saw Jesus in a moment of ecstasy, when his divinity shone through in a way that it had never done before.
On the Mount of Olives, on the other hand, they saw Jesus in a moment of agony, when his humanity shone through in a way that it had never done before.
Mount Tabor and the Mount of Olives reveal in striking contrast the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. The two mountain events are inseparable sides of the same coin. They show us the total Jesus in a total way: his humanity and his divinity. And it’s right here that these two mountain events contain an important, practical message for us.
Like Jesus, we too have a twofold dimension about us. There is in each one of us something that is human and something that is divine. There is in each one of us a spark of Adam and a spark of God.
Like Jesus on Mount Tabor, we too experience moments of ecstasy, when the spark of God
shines through so brightly it almost blinds us. We feel so close to God that we feel we can reach out and touch him. During these moments, we marvel at how beautiful life is. We love everyone. We hug our friends and forgive our enemies. On the other hand, like Jesus on the Mount of Olives, we also experience moments of agony.During these moments, the spark of Adam surfaces so sharply in us
that the spark of God flickers and almost dies. During these moments, life is miserable. We feel that no one loves us.
We find fault with our friends, and we curse our enemies. We doubt whether God actually exists.
When these moments of agony and ecstasy come, we should recall the two mountains: Mount Tabor and the Mount of Olives.
We should recall that Jesus too experienced these same high points and low points in his life.
We should remember something more important. We should remember that on both occasions, during his ecstasy on Mount Tabor and during his agony on the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed.
If prayer was the way Jesus responded to these moments, then it should be the way we respond to them too.
And if we do, like Jesus during his transfiguration on Mount Tabor, we too will hear our Father say to us, “This is my chosen Son.”
And like Jesus during his agony on the Mount of Olives, we too will experience the touch of our Father’s healing hand.
Let’s close with a prayer:
God, our Father, let us know moments of ecstasy like the one Jesus knew on Mount Tabor.
When these moments come, let us do what Jesus did. Let us turn to you in prayer and let us hear you say to us, “You are my chosen child.” And, Father, in the same way, when moments of agony come to us, as they did to Jesus on the Mount of Olives, let us do what Jesus did. Let us turn to you in prayer. And let us feel the touch of your healing hand.
By Mark Link, S J.