Sunday Sermon for March 16, 2014, the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A
Readings: Gen 12:1-4a; 2Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9
In the Gospel reading today we hear about the Transfiguration of our Lord. Not only was He transfigured, i.e., His face shone like the sun, His clothes became dazzlingly white, but Moses and Elijah were there speaking with Him. Finally, at the end of this momentous time a bright cloud overshadows Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John. From this cloud the voice of God the Father is heard announcing that Jesus is His beloved Son with Whom He is well pleased. This announcement is then followed by a command direct from God: listen to Him.
These events were not necessary for Jesus; they were for the Apostles and for the rest of us who follow after them. To consider that God was going to go to the Cross and die was something that would seem not merely unfathomable, but downright wrong. After all, this is the eternal, all powerful God, the author of life and immortality. How is it possible that He would die?
We could maybe handle the idea that God would become one of us for the purpose of which we hear in the second reading: to call us to a holy life. Perhaps he wanted to show us how to live such a life. Reading the Scriptures did not seem to cause the majority of people in Israel to live their lives for God, so maybe if He came down and showed us how to do this, then perhaps we would be willing to do it. But to die?! Unthinkable! Unacceptable!
The Lord, knowing the struggle His Apostles would have with His impending death, wanted to strengthen them. It is obvious that God was not speaking to Jesus about Himself or about listening to Himself. Neither were these words directed toward Moses or Elijah. Therefore, they could only be intended for the Apostles who were present on this occasion. Moreover, Our Lord spoke to the Apostles on the way down the mountain about the resurrection. This was something completely foreign to them and, even though they had just seen a brief prefiguration of the resurrection, it still made no sense to them. Neither could they have connected what they had just seen with the future resurrection since it had not yet happened.
So, Our Lord was preparing them and strengthening them for what was to come. However, all of the other reasons mentioned above were also going to be fulfilled in His ultimate act of love on the Cross. In His Passion and Cross He taught us about living a holy life. He also teaches us, in a most profound manner, the dignity and importance of suffering. We have all heard thousands of times about the good that can come from suffering. We have heard that if the Angels could be envious of us, it would be because we can suffer and they cannot. Like the people of Israel mentioned earlier, these words have not been sufficient to cause very many people to embrace their suffering.
The example of our Lord on the Cross has proven to be just the opposite. While there are not very many people who actually rejoice when they have the opportunity to suffer, there are many who are willing to accept and endure their trials by uniting themselves with the suffering of Jesus. His words are the words of God, but His example speaks to us in a way that even divine words cannot.
This said, our Lord’s words to His Apostles, the first He spoke after the Father commanded the Apostles to listen to Jesus, were about the resurrection. Yes, there was going to be something horrible coming, but the suffering is not an end in itself. The suffering will lead to glory. St. Paul even tells us that we will share in our Lord’s glory in relation to the amount that we share in His suffering.
Suffering does many things for us that were not necessary for Jesus, for example, it purifies us of the effects of sin, it tempers us, it forms us. The suffering of our Lord, and ours as well, demonstrates the love and fidelity that is present in the one who is suffering. Of course, we also find out who loves us and who will be faithful to us when we are made to suffer.
Like Abraham in the first reading, our Lord’s love and fidelity in the Passion brought about a great blessing. He is God from all eternity, but it is the Cross and resurrection that have made the Name of Jesus great. All people who are willing to share in His saving work are blessed in Him. So, bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God, so that as you share in His suffering, so you will share in His glory.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.