Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Gen 22: 1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18
Ps 116: 10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
Rom 8: 31-34
Mark 9: 2-10
Today, we are presented with two mysteries. The first mystery is the Lord transfigured: Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, the culmination of salvation history, the apex of God’s plan to draw all things to Himself, shining forth in glory as much as earthly light allows and human eye can accept.
The second mystery involves the apostles. How could Peter, James, and John, who witnessed the Transfiguration, abandon Christ in the hour of his passion? They heard the voice of God proclaim Jesus as his Son. How could they run? At the moment when Jesus needed them most, how could they hide?
The book of Genesis tells us that God calls to Abraham, and Abraham’s response is “Ready!” God bids Abraham leave his home and travel to a distant land, and “Abram went as the LORD directed him.” God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham leads his son up a hill and makes ready to slaughter him.
The Gospel of Mark tells us that Peter, James and John follow Christ up a high mountain, and there they hear God’s voice and witness Jesus’ glory. But when the time comes for Jesus to walk up the hill of Calvary, these three will not be with him. Today, they see. Today, they hear. Today, early in Lent, they are present with the Lord. At the end of Lent, they will vanish. How can this be?
One possibility is fear. Yes, they hear and see, but when the time comes, fear gets the upper hand. At what period of our lives is fear not a potent force? Children lie for fear of punishment, students cheat for fear of failure. A young man is afraid of what his friends will think, so he joins in a theft. A young woman is afraid of a foreshortened future, so she ends the life growing within her. So we must have compassion for Peter, James and John. They see and hear the glory of the Lord, but they are men, sinful and frail, and fearful for their lives.
But there is another possibility: We are asking the wrong question. To know that these three men who witness the Transfiguration will fall asleep in the garden of Gethsemane and then disappear when the final act of the drama begins, and then ask ourselves, “How could they do such a thing?” - that question is easy. But the hard question Christ wants us to ask is not how they could do such a thing, but how we can do such a thing, day after day, week after week. Last Sunday, we recalled Jesus’ harsh sojourn in the desert; we heard of his victory over the devil’s temptations; and we received his body and blood. Did our actions on Monday and Tuesday, our words on Wednesday and Thursday, our sacrifices and good deeds on Friday and Saturday, give evidence that we understood what we heard and who we received?
So the question is not how they could see the glory of the Lord and abandon him. The question is how do we, who hear his word and eat his body and blood, then go forth and betray him?
We betray him at work, when we join in gossip, spread rumors, and thoughtlessly forward an unworthy email. We betray him at school, when we join in the jokes and ridicule the people who don’t dress right or talk right. We betray him at home, when we shout harsh words in anger, fail to ask forgiveness, let anger nest in our hearts, and give no thanks for the good things we have.
We run in fear again and again, and reject “the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began,” when we shrink from proclaiming and defending the truth about marriage; when we shirk our responsibility to the poor; when we shy away from going to confession, visiting the sick, and burying the dead.
Today and tomorrow, and throughout all of Lent, the easy question is, “How could Peter, James, and John witness the Transfiguration, but then forsake the Lord?” The hard question is, “How can I eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, then go forth and–perhaps on the very same Sunday, but certainly not long after–speak and act in ways that show I have heard but not listened, beheld but not believed, received but not taken to heart the words of our heavenly Father: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”