Second Sunday of Lent, Year B, Mark 9:2-10, The Transfiguration.
Abraham is prepared to give his own child (First Reading Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18). It’s one of the most savage scenes in the bible. The only redeeming factor being that it’s a test and God is not going to allow it to happen.
But for some parents, tragically, it’s happened, not that they were given a choice, rather it was forced on them, and is being forced on them, day after day, as they struggle to reach some kind of acceptance.
From the First Reading we move to the figure of Jesus, taking Peter, James and John with him, climbing a high mountain where they could be alone.
The revelation that occurs on the mountain will not be given to the other nine. Jesus takes Peter, James and John – not the others. We need to accept that God doesn’t give the same spiritual experiences to us all – for whatever reason.
Neither is the revelation given to the crowds taking an interest in Jesus of Nazareth. The vast majority among the crowds are not so much interested in discipleship – in giving up their lives for Christ – as in being cured of some difficulty so that they can get on with their lives.
Revelation always happens when we withdraw from the world, it happens away from the crowd. The world listens to talk, debate, voice after voice, but the follower of Christ listens to a single voice that’s heard only in silence.
Revelation happens when we’re in the company of Jesus. In the company of Jesus the disciples glimpse something much greater, something much more beautiful than ordinary experience.
Revelation happens after the effort of climbing the mountain. Climbing a mountain is always symbolic of the journey to God which brings “heightened consciousness” and “heightened awareness” (Fr. Robert Barron) and unrestricted vision.
Climbing a mountain is a difficult task, full of danger. Some of us will crawl on our hands and knees as we near the top, breathless, exhausted, perhaps bruised, cut and bleeding because we’ve fallen on the way up, because the ascent has been brutal and it’s taken a toll. Some of us may conclude that the ascent is too high a price, not worth it, because we can’t see beyond the immediacy of the suffering involved. There’s nothing like suffering to restrict our vision. Think Stephen Fry!
It requires self-sacrifice to climb the mountain of life and reach our true destination. It’ll cost us. On the way there may be unthinkable losses. Such is life anyway. But the teaching of Christ leaves no room for doubt – I’m worth the loss of everything! The spiritual experience is far more beautiful than anything in ordinary everyday experience.
Revelation doesn’t happen antiseptically, in a make believe world, it happens in this world, this real world, with Christ.
On the mountain top revelation happens – the earthly human Jesus is transfigured, significantly Mark makes the point of telling us that “his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them.” It was a glimpse of the other world; “dazzingly white” – transcendent illumination! People long dead, Moses and Elijah could be seen again. Peter wanted to stay. That’s us! That’s what we’ve done with Lourdes. We build tents (hotels). We crave this beauty. This is what we’re all looking for if we could only dare to believe, if we could only get past human suffering.
We might think that for Peter, James and John, the memory of this event would be enough to carry them through the passion and death of Jesus. But it wasn’t – at least initially – and that’s significant. In the immediacy of Jesus suffering and death even this memory fades, at least for a time. That’s how it is for us too, that’s how it is for Stephen Fry.
There is no way around or past human suffering. There’s only a way through it – by hanging on to Jesus Christ come what may!