Sunday, March 5, 2017

Second Sunday of Lent - March 12, 2017

First Reading Commentary
The promise of Abram's blessing appears two more times in the book of Genesis (cf. 18:18 & 22:18).  The prophecy in this Reading is confirmed to Isaac (cf. Genesis 26:2-5) and to Jacob (cf. Genesis 28:14).  Abram's faith is tested here as he is commanded to leave the comforts of home and journey to an unknown habitation. 

"All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you."  The blessing begins with Abram but points to Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abram.  Christ calls us to venture out from the ways of the world and walk in His ways, a sojourn that leads to eternal life which is unknown to us because "eye has not seen" (Isaiah 64:4 & 1 Corinthians 2:9).  The journey is difficult but like Abram [Abraham], God's gift of faith can teach us to be poor in spirit and will see us through.

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul calls for evangelization here.  By bearing our share of hardship for the Gospel, he asks us to join him in spreading the Good News.  This is not easy in the midst of a mountain of secularization. 

The Greek text expresses the difficulties involved as it translates Paul's words as: "Be a partner with me in suffering."  This message is timeless.  Today, in our world of technological advances it's difficult to believe that there are still a great number of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ.  

"The harvest is indeed great but the laborers are few" (Luke 10:2).  In our own corner of the world evangelization is presented mostly by example - and if necessary, by words.  In our secular culture actions tend to speak much louder than words.  We are called to a holy life and are equipped with saving grace which was made manifest by the illumination of our Savior Who brought to light life and incorruption.

Gospel Commentary
In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, chapter 16 (verses 16-17), the Father reveals to Peter Who Jesus is; and now the Father's revelation is visually shown not only to Peter, but also to James and John.  According to a fourth century tradition, the mountain is Tabor which is located about eight miles southeast of Nazareth.  As is the case with most biblical scholarship, not everyone is in agreement with that locale. 

Saint John Chrysostom explains the symbolism of being led up a high mountain and how it impacts our spiritual life: "It is necessary for all who desire to look upon the glory of God that they lie not down amid base pleasures, but that they be uplifted to heavenly things."  Origen, an early Church writer, adds: "Jesus is simply seen by those who do not, by the practice of virtue, ascend to the sacred mountain of wisdom; but to those who do ascend there He is no longer known as Man, but is understood as God the Word." 

Transfiguration does not mean that Jesus temporarily put aside His physical Body to reveal His Spiritual makeup; but instead He added splendor and glory to His physical Body.  In other words, this is how our Savior will appear on the Day of Judgment. 

The presence of Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets.  Their presence teaches that the Mosaic Law is not abolished but fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  Saint Hilary believes that Moses and Elijah will be the precursors of Christ's Second Coming.  This is alluded to in the book of Revelation (Chapter 11) with the story of the two witnesses.  Most of the early Church Fathers, however, believe that the two in Revelation are Enoch and Elijah. 

Peter's suggestion of making three tents shows how overwhelmed he is by the whole experience.  Peter may have assumed that Moses and Elijah were going to stay and proclaim Jesus in His glory.  It's also possible that Peter was so caught up in the event that he became oblivious to earthly things and wished to remain on the mountain forever. 

In Saint Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, after Peter’s suggestion to make three tents, it is followed by the words “not knowing what he said”.  This may be what is referred to in an Ambrosian hymn as sobriam ebrietatem – sober intoxication.  The Carthusian, Dom Nicholas Kempf, in his work, Expositiones Mysticæ Cantica Canticorum speaks of “sober intoxication” as a heart that has been moved to jubilation to a point that is utterly mysterious and completely inexpressible, and thus cannot be put into conventional words.  Biblically, we see such mysterious language in the book of Revelation and the Song of Songs.  But how does this impact us personally?  Speaking of the Carthusians, it was a monk of that Order from their monastery in the United States who wrote: “The Transfiguration of the Lord allows us to contemplate, not only the Mystery of Jesus, but also our own mystery.  Prayer and contemplation, lived in pure faith during this life, are the beginning of our own Transfiguration.  A most apropos statement for Lent, a season which exhorts us to intense prayer!  That being said, however, in Henry Maundrell's book, "Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem", he writes that there are three grottos present on Mount Tabor to represent the three tents proposed by Peter. 

In the Old Testament, the book of Exodus (24:15) instructs us that the cloud is the visible manifestation of Almighty God.  As the cloud enveloped Moses on the mountain then, it now casts its shadow on the apostles chosen to witness Christ's Transfiguration. 

In Matthew's Gospel, first during Christ's Baptism (3:17), then at Peter's profession (16:17), and now for the third time we read that Jesus is the Son of God.  Concerning His Son, the Father commands us to "listen to Him".  Our Blessed Mother tells us the same thing at the wedding feast of Cana when she says:  "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).  Since this command comes from a Divine Father and a sinless Mother, thus incapable of deception, how could any Christian ever question the words of the Son? 

The Voice of the Father for certain is meant to be heard by the three apostles but it's also likely that the Voice could equally have been aimed at Moses and Elijah who longed to see the Messiah.  Once Christ's visual glorification has passed, He commands the chosen three not to reveal what they have seen until Jesus has been raised from the dead.  Following the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, it is the recollection of the Transfiguration that probably made these three apostles comprehend the necessity of the Cross.