Pastoral Message – March 5, 2023
It is good that we are here!
One of my favorite people in the New Testament is Peter. He reminds me so much of the people that I grew up with in New York. They were always ready with a comment, or an observation, or a complaint, or an opinion. Being quiet simply was not an option. Occasionally they might say something brilliant. Often, they said things that were offensive or just plain stupid. Peter fits that pattern perfectly.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the account of the Transfiguration of our Lord follows only six days after two New Yorker style statements from Peter – one rather brilliant and the other which got him in trouble. First, he declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus is impressed with Peter’s insight and praises him. Unfortunately, rather than quitting while he was ahead, Peter puts his foot in his mouth only eight verses later when he reacts to Jesus speaking of his suffering and death by saying, “God forbid this should happen” to which Jesus famously rebukes him and says, “Get behind me Satan.”
In today’s gospel passage Peter again feels the need to speak up. This time he offers to make tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Once again, he needs to be rebuked. However, instead of Jesus bringing him back into line, God himself calls down from heaven and tells Peter to be quiet and listen to Jesus.
The Transfiguration is the moment when Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain to see him with Moses and Elijah as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. His face shone like the sun and his clothes were dazzling white. We read this Gospel during Lent because it reminds us that the fasting and repenting of Lent are meant to lead us to the glory of the Lord at Easter. It is a story of transformation. Jesus is transformed into his glorious presence. The three apostles are transformed as they witness this remarkable event and hear directly from God. There are two key elements of this encounter: First, the apostles experience the glorified Jesus; then, they hear God’s booming voice.
They have seen and heard Jesus every day. Why do they need to hear directly from God? Perhaps, they were too comfortable seeing and hearing him teach or were not really listening to His message. Perhaps, the Lord realized that Peter and the others needed to be better prepared to face His suffering and death. To accomplish this, He gave them an awe-inspiring experience which would remain with them after they returned down the mountain. The event strengthened their faith and gave them hope later when Jesus is crucified.
God spoke to the apostles on the mountain and speaks to us here today. His words direct both the apostles and us to listen to Jesus. Of course, real listening is not simply hearing in a passive or distracted way, but rather is the combination of actively focusing, trusting, obeying and acting. If we really listen, we will be transformed by His words and by His presence.
Just as disciples went up the mountain, heard the word of God, and were accompanied by Jesus when they returned to their daily lives, so Jesus also accompanies us when we receive Him in the Eucharist and He accompanies us when we leave the church. That’s when we “come down the mountain” with Jesus and face the harsh reality of the world around us. That’s when the grace that we receive through God’s Word and Holy Communion gives us the courage and energy to speak for what is right and true.
Although the apostles were walking with Jesus every day, they may have grown too comfortable with His presence, maybe even taken Him for granted. Maybe they no longer felt that it was amazing to accompany Him. The Transfiguration wakes them up and transforms them. Like the apostles, we know that Jesus is in our midst. Yet, many of us also take His presence for granted. Like the apostles, maybe we need to see God’s glory or to hear God’s booming voice to remind us of who Jesus is and what he has done for us so that we wake up and listen to Jesus. We need to leave each Mass amazed, energized, and transformed by our experience.
How many times have we walked into this church and said, “It is good that we are here!” When the priest elevates the body and blood of Christ, how often are we amazed? Imagine God’s voice at that moment booming in this church, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!” Lent is an invitation into an ongoing transformation in relationship with Jesus which leads us to eternity. It is an opportunity to truly see Jesus glorified on that mountain 2000 years ago as well as with us here today. It is reminder to listen for God’s booming voice instructing us to “listen to Him.” And, finally, it is a time when we can call out with enthusiasm, “it is good that we are here.”