Brief synopsis of the readings: In our first reading the Lord took Abram outside and had him look up at the sky and told him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. The Lord then sacrificed several animals as a sign and told Abram that his descendants would be given all the land from the wadi of Egypt to the Great River. Luke recounts Jesus’ trip up the mountain to pray with Peter, John, and James. There Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah and they became bathed in light. They spoke “of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” After Moses and Elijah left Peter suggested that they erect three tents to commemorate this. But then a voice came from a cloud and said: “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.”
When we think of Lent, we often think of it as a journey. I’ve found this to be particularly true when I speak with people who have given something up for Lent when they ask: “How much longer to Easter?” Years ago a friend of mine gave me a book called Letters From an Understanding Friend: Jesus On the Way to Jerusalem. Each day during Lent it recounts a passage from Luke recounting Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem. After that the author (Isaias Powers) wrote a letter in Jesus’ voice that gave a heartfelt commentary on the reading. If you’re looking for a meditation for Lent it’s worth a read.
This Second Sunday of Lent speaks a great deal about journeys. I think most of us are aware of God’s call to Abram to leave his home and his pagan beliefs to come to a new land and a belief that benefits all of us to this day. When God promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in sky, each of us is one of those stars. God made a covenant with Abram that he continues to keep with us today: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam find roots in this events.
But when we read Luke’s Gospel we may not immediately think of this as a journey. We all recognize this event as the Transfiguration because Jesus was “transfigured” before their eyes. To be transfigured means to be radically changed in a spiritual way, to see and be seen in a new light.
We can only imagine how amazed Peter, John, and James were by this scene. As observant Jews they read and reread the stories of Moses and Elijah and saw them as spiritual giants. And here they saw them in person, conversing with their friend Jesus. Not only that, but if they missed the point a cloud called out to them to recognize Jesus as God’s Son, God’s Chosen One, who should be listened to. I’m not sure how I would have reacted if I had been there, but I completely understand Peter’s desire to commemorate this event. In the same way Americans commemorate Plymouth Rock he wanted to make this a sacred place.
God love him, Peter (as I often describe him) is more gas pedal than steering wheel. I think Peter missed something that most of us miss when we read this event. We don’t know much of what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about but the reading tells us that “they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.”
Our translation uses the word “passing” but other translations use the word “exodus.” Luke was written in Greek and the Greek word is “exodos.” When we think about an exodus we think immediately of the second book of the Bible, the Book of Exodus. It recounts the events when God liberated the descendants of Abram from Egypt where they had been slaves. Exodus describes the victory over the Egyptian Pharaoh, the parting of the sea, and the journey to the promised land.
That’s good for as far as it goes, but I suggest these readings have something more to tell us. If we see exodus (exodos) as liberation from slavery to freedom we can make these ancient events relevant to our lives.
When calling Abram (who we now know to be Abraham) out of the land of Ur he wasn’t simply calling him to move to a new location. Abram, like all of those around him, was a pagan who worshiped many gods. When God chose Abram he called him not only to a new place, but also to a new understanding, a new freedom. From that day forward Abram and his descendants were given a gift: they understood that they were protected and loved by a God who was not one of several, or even the first among equals. Abram was given the opportunity to know of the God who singularly created all of creation, and each of us.
And Moses, a critical figure in the Book of Exodus, speaks to Jesus about Jesus’ passage (or exodus) to, and beyond Jerusalem.
Apologies to those who are counting down the days when they can eat sweets or enjoy a good glass of wine, I think Lent gives us a window into our own journey from slavery to liberation. Lent doesn’t simply call us to give up things we enjoy, it calls us to find those things that enslave us and liberate ourselves from them. Lent calls us to seek out those behaviors or patterns or even people who prevent us from living lives of liberation and joy.
When we read the account of the Transfiguration we normally think that Jesus was transfigured. But if we see transfiguration as growing into a new spiritual light we can see how Peter, James, and John were also transformed. Peter may have initially missed the point and wanted to stay in place (ie, create a monument) but we can see in lives of all Jesus’ disciples that events like this changed their spiritual lives for the better.
We are early in our journey of Lent 2019 but let us point our journey and our lives in the direction that leads us from those things that enslave us to those things that liberate us.