21 February 2016: Second Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Gn 15:5-12, 17-18  Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14  Phil 3:17-4:1  Lk 9:28b-36

 

Transfiguration: God meets us; we are changed

On the second Sunday in Lent–Transfiguration Sunday–the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider how God meets us and how such meetings can change us.

The first reading, from Genesis, describes God and Abram’s meeting and covenant. Throughout the previous three books, God and Abram have been building a relationship. Finally “Abram puts his faith in the Lord” and he and God make a covenant together. God appears to Abram in smoke and fire to “pass between the pieces” of the sacrificed animals–that is, to “sign on the dotted line.” After this meeting Abram becomes Abraham, the father of nations, and his descendants inherit the promised land.

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, discusses citizenship and transformation. Philippi was a Roman colony (kolōnia, a settlement for retired Roman troops), and many Philippians were Roman citizens. Paul reminds the Philippian believing community that their real community and membership is with Christ, not with the Romans. It’s the Lord–not the Romans–who will “transform our lowly body,” into his glorious one. Paul uses the word μετασχηματίζω (meta-skay-mah-TIHd-zo), meaning “to transfigure, transform, or change;” this word connects the second reading to the gospel.

The gospel, Luke’s account of Jesus transfiguration, tells how Peter, James, and John understood a transformed Jesus and encountered God:

  • Overcome by sleep/now fully awake: In the first reading, Abram encounters God while “in a trance.” Luke describes the disciples first as “weighted down (with sleep)” and then suddenly “awakened thoroughly.” In the ancient world, visions and trances were common. Prophets like Isaiah (6:1-13), Jeremiah (1:11-19), and Ezekiel (1:4-28) write about meeting God in dreams, visions, ecstasy, trances, or other altered reality. Luke’s hearers understand the sleep/wake language as a prelude to an encounter with God.
  • Moses and Elijah: Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, are two important Hebrew scripture heroes who met God face-to-face. Both Moses and Elijah encountered God on a mountain (Horeb/Sinai). Luke places Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain surrounded by scripture heroes who have seen God.
  • The cloud and the voice: The phrase “cast a shadow” can also be translated “to envelop in a brilliant haze” or “to invest with supernatural influence.” In Hebrew scripture clouds, fire, and smoke often signal an encounter with God. God’s message–“This is my chosen son; listen to him”–is nearly identical to the words heard at Jesus’ baptism (Lk 3:22). God’s voice identifies Jesus as God’s son and chosen one (suffering servant), foreshadowing Jesus’ coming glory and his coming suffering.

The authors of today’s readings struggle with human words and ideas that describe and explain encounters with God. Such experiences change us and change the way we see the world. As with Abram, God meets us where we are. As our relationship with God grows and we journey in faith, we, like Paul, recognize where we belong, where we are citizens. As we encounter God daily–in others, in prayer, in sacraments–we are transformed. Are we open to meet God? Are we ready to be transfigured?

—Terence Sherlock

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