On Our Transformation
(Gen.15:5-12, 17-18; Phil.3:17-4:1; Lk.9:28-36)
In Luke’s Gospel last week, Jesus went into the Sinai desert for 40 days to pray, to fast and to reflect, preparing himself for his great mission.
In Lent, this is what we’re all called to do.
Today, Luke’s Gospel takes us to the top of Mount Tabor in lower Galilee, where Jesus goes to pray with Peter, James and John. There the disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and the prophet Elijah. For a while they’re dazzled as the light of God shines through Jesus’ face and his clothes are as bright as the sun.
Now here’s the question: If we’re in Lent and meant to be in the desert, why are we today taken to a mountaintop, especially when it’s green?
Well, firstly, when the Bible speaks of the desert it isn’t always a barren place full of sand and stones. Rather, it’s typically a quiet, mystical place where people go to reflect and pray.
The Holy Land has many mountains, and in ancient times people thought they were the closest point between heaven and earth. Indeed, in Scripture God often reveals himself on mountaintops and Jesus often goes there to pray.
By taking us there today in our Gospel, God wants us to pray as well. Along with almsgiving and fasting, that’s what he hopes we’ll do this Lent. But more than that, God knows it can be a struggle for us to sit quietly in any sort of desert, so he encourages us by giving us a brief glimpse of who Jesus really is.
There on Mt Tabor, Jesus’ disciples were amazed to see him shimmering with an intense, divine light. They knew he was different, but previously they couldn’t see beyond his ordinary humanity. Now they can see who Jesus really is, and we can see that he’s the light at the end of our Lenten tunnel.
It’s significant that Jesus’ transfiguration occurs while he’s praying. We should remember this. While he’s praying, Jesus is transformed both inside and out. His face changes and his clothes dazzle white, and he becomes a mesmerising figure, radiating the glory of God.
Something similar happens to Moses in Exodus (34:29-35). After praying on Mt. Sinai, his face shines so brightly that he has to cover it with a veil.
The message for us here is that if we pray like Jesus, if we pray like Moses, then we too can expect a profound transformation, both inside and out.
But there’s another reason we’re taken to the mountain today. That’s because God wants us to see that Jesus has come to fulfil the promises of the Old Testament. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, ‘Don’t think that I’ve come to abolish the law or the prophets; I’ve come not to abolish but to fulfil.’ So we see the Old and New Testaments coming together as Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop.
While he’s praying, Jesus is transformed both inside and out. Something similar happens to Moses.
Now, while they’re on the mountain, the disciples are covered by a big cloud and they become frightened. There’s rich symbolism in the image of the cloud. The Bible often refers to clouds; they typically represent the invisible God. In Exodus, when Moses and the Israelites cross the desert, God’s presence is always accompanied by a cloud.
The message for us here is that if there are any clouds casting shadows on our lives, God is in them. Indeed, God is always in them. He’s our silver lining.
And when the cloud appears in Luke’s Gospel, the disciples hear God’s voice say, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him’.
Now these words are significant. Listen to him. The disciples weren’t good at listening to Jesus. They really didn’t understand what he was trying to tell them. Many of us aren’t so good at listening, either. Listening sounds like an easy thing to do, but it’s not.
One reason might be because we’re too busy talking. Some of us are chronic talkers. And sometimes we’re selective about what we’re prepared to hear.
St. John of the Cross once wrote that many people who think they’re listening to God are actually only listening to themselves.
This Lent, let’s take this message from today’s Gospel. Let’s try to find our own private mountaintop. And in the quiet moments let’s really listen to what God is trying to say to us, in the Scriptures, in the sacraments, and in the ordinary moments of our daily lives.
If we pray well, like Jesus and like Moses, we can be sure that our lives will also be transformed, both inside and out.