Trasfigurazione Raffaello (Pinacoteca Vaticana)
Sunday, March 13th
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT – YEAR C
This Sunday, the Lenten journey towards the Passover of the Lord continues, climbing the mountain with Jesus. What does the transfiguration of Christ mean in our life? Which can be our best response to the awe that God generates in our hearts? Our whole existence, if we think about it, is a search for the face of God. How much desire men and women of all times have lived with! It is a search for ourselves, since we are made “in his image and likeness”, and that we seek ourselves in the face of that onw who wanted us, that one who created us with love. From Adam on, who hid himself from the face of God, men live between the fear of seeing the face of God and the desire to say with Peter “how beautiful!”
This passage is placed in the middle of the Gospel of Luke, at the end of its revelation. The Gospel reveals to us, through various characters, the face of Christ. At first Herod, who fears he is a king, people who think he is a prophet, or the Baptist, the disciples say he is the Christ, perhaps without knowing what it means. Jesus explains that he is “the son of man“, a glorious figure in the book of Daniel in chapter 7, judge of the world. But Jesus completes the description of him with the words of the prophet Isaiah, explaining that he is “the servant of Yahweh” who will have to suffer for the people, to overcome evil. After describing himself, Jesus also describes his disciples, with great crudeness, concluding by saying: “Whoever wants to come after me, take up his cross“, making us understand that following him involves following his path, which also involves suffering. Going through these sufferings to come to life, to the very victory of him.
In today’s Gospel we hear the confirmation of the Father. The voice from heaven testifies to the disciples that he is really “the son of man”, the one who will have to suffer, and God invites everyone to listen to him. The theme is not the Transfiguration, among other things, Luke himself does not even use this term. The theme of the transfigurations, the μεταμόρφωσις (= “metamorphosis”) is very dear to the pagan culture, to which Luke addresses: the divinities who take on human form. Here, actually, the exactly opposite occurs: human nature takes on the light, the “fabric”, of God. To see God, we can see the humanity of Jesus, and we must take inspiration from him, and be disciples of him by listening to him. This scene on Mount Tabor is the culmination of God’s creative action. We can say that it is the completeness of creation. Indeed, “ We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. […] as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved”. (Rom 8, 22-24). With the contemplation of the beauty of this face, it is like all creation has completed this journey of desire animated by hope.
“At that time, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray”, as it often happens in the Sunday Gospel, we miss the temporal collocation of the passage. In reality, the passage that we find in the bible tells us “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took with him …” these speeches, these words, in which Jesus said that he is “the son of man” and will have to suffer to bring life. Eight days after revealing his mission to the disciples, he takes three of them with him. The same is true for us too: if we don’t go through those words, we will never see the transfiguration. We will never be able to understand the transfiguration if we do not see Jesus crucified first, if we do not first contemplate his glory in suffering, in which we can understand what his love for us is like. While Mark places the transfiguration “on the sixth day”, in the day of man, when everything is completed, Luke is keen to highlight how it is “on the eighth”, beyond creation, the point of conclusion of this creative action of God, because he speaks to the third generation of Christians. It is the only day of the resurrection, there will be no “end of time” expected by the first Christians. The eighth day, the Monday described by Luke, is our daily life, every day we can experience the joy of transfiguration.
He takes them with him, in his intimacy, and takes them to the mountain, to the height of creation, a place of wisdom and prayer. The real place of the transfiguration is prayer. When we enter into this relationship of son and father, as Jesus had with the Father, we can experience the transfiguration. Creation speaks to us, reveals this face of God to us, it is up to us to understand it, to know how to read it. We can change the world only if we learn to “change the world” to change our gaze, to educate this contemplation on our Monday, in our everyday life. Only then will we be able to see the transfiguration. And while he prays, the transfiguration does not take place, but “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning“.
God is other, he changes his appearance, he shows himself for what he is, and he shows us his face. So far, at the center of Luke’s narration we have had the word, from this moment onwards the face will be at the center, up to the contemplation of the face on the cross, the search for that face not recognized by the disciples of Emmaus. Unable to describe the face, which is “other”, he describes the garment which is lightning, and describes through two figures, Moses represents the law and the word and Elijah the prophet who shows the action of God in history. He alone is the light that illuminates our faces, if we are with God our face will be “dazzling”.
Both Moses and Elijah did not see death, the first one because he received the kiss from God, the second kidnapped by a chariot of fire. To understand God’s glory, we need to turn to the Bible. They are both represented “in the glory” of Jesus, and speak of his “exodus“, that is, of his death on the cross, the whole Old Testament speaks of his death and resurrection and walks towards this event that changes history.
“Peter and his companions” were in their sleep, at night, overwhelmed by the fatigue, exactly as it will happen in the oil mill of Gethsemane, a parallel passage with the same protagonists. In fact, Peter, James and John are also there, there too Jesus prays, and while today the Father calls him “son”, in the garden of olives Jesus will call him “Father!” In sleep the disciples are unable to unite, but as soon as they wake up they unite with Moses and Elijah, as well as all of us who, with our eyes closed “to his glory”, cannot contemplate the face of God. If we do not accept God’s suffering, we do not enter the logic of the cross, it is as if we were in sleep. The glory, in Hebrew “kabôd” indicates the weight, the thickness of God, what they can see with open eyes.
“While they were separating from him” the curious intervention of Peter takes place, very beautiful. There is a moment of separation between Moses and Elijah with respect to Jesus, just as it will also happen for the disciples with the capture in Gethsemane. The disciple’s first reaction is amazement, “how beautiful!”, and if you think about it, it is the exclamation that God makes every day during creation, when at the end of every creative act he always exclaimed “how beautiful!” Peter, too, sees this beauty, on the mountain, the beauty of God through his son. It should be the same beauty that we must learn to discover, looking through the face of Jesus, each of our brothers and sisters and looking at all of creation! It was easy for God to be amazed by all this beauty, looking at the newly created man, because he saw his splendor.
“Let’s build three shelters” seems a little prelude to the vice of building cathedrals, the tents in Hebrew שְׁכִינָה (= “Shekhinah”) recall the tabernacle, the place where the Eucharist is kept. The final tent is the flesh of Jesus. Peter could not even realize it, just awakened and struck by so much beauty. God responds through creation, through “the cloud”, a sign of life, of refreshing rain, of light in the night of the exodus, of a screen that allows us to see the sun, a sign of God’s love.
“And they were afraid as they entered the cloud“. They enter the cloud, and they are afraid of it. First they experience the beauty of contemplating the face, from the outside. But when you enter the mystery, the first state of mind is fear. And what happens in the cloud? God cannot be seen, in the first command God says not to make images. And in fact only one voice is heard: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him! ». If we seek the face of God, if we want to give peace to this desire that characterizes all men of all times, then the answer is “to listen to Jesus”. In listening to him, we find the answer to our desire. While the face is destined to change -over the years we risk not recognizing longtime friends or relatives- the voice remains the same, the words exceed in time. And the more we try to put Jesus’ words into practice, the more our face will be in the image and likeness of that of the Creator.
God is a voice. Through the voice he creates, with the voice he seeks, and if someone escapes like Adam, he escapes from his voice. Last Sunday, Lent began in the desert, just shortly after hearing a voice from heaven saying: “You are my son” addressed to Jesus who silently welcomed our limit. Now, however, that voice is addressed to us, quoting Isaiah when he describes the servant of Yahweh (Is 42), saying: “This is my son”. Only on these two occasions, in the Gospel, is the voice of God heard, and it is curious to see how basically in both it says the same thing. How does the transfiguration end? With listening.
In the life of each of us, what we hear transforms our heart, transfigures us. For this reason, the heart of the whole Gospel of today is listening, because it is here where the meaning of our daily commitment is at stake. “As soon as the voice ceased, Jesus was left alone”. The solitude of Jesus, the cloud vanished and the company of Moses and Elijah, brings us back to the daily life of our journey. We must listen to the Jesus of the cross, the one who a little earlier said that it was necessary to suffer, not the Jesus of glory. This is perhaps the most beautiful challenge that the Transfiguration leaves us, on this Sunday of Lent, is to learn to listen to it away from the “special effects” but in the humility of neighboring brothers and of the creation that speaks to us.
This beauty shining in Tabor seems to be described in a sublime way by the words of St. Francis in the periphrase of the Our Father: “Oh most holy our Father: our creator, redeemer, consoler and savior. Who art in heaven: in angels and saints, enlightening them to knowledge, because you, Lord, are light; inflaming them with love, because you, Lord, are love; placing your abode in them, and filling them with bliss, because you, Lord, are the highest, eternal good, from which all good comes and without which there is no good ”. (FF 266-267). We thank the Lord for the gift of his daily word, which we must learn more and more to listen during this Lenten journey. Let us pray that this time of conversion may offer us ears to look at the beauty of God with the eyes of the heart. We sincerely wish you a happy Sunday.