2nd Sunday of Lent Year B – Feb. 25, 2024

 2nd Sunday of Lent Year B – Feb. 25, 2024

Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8: 31b-34; Mark 9: 2-10

 

Theme: The Lenten Season is a Journey of Faith

Today is the Second Sunday of our forty-day penitential journey called Lent. The liturgy of the First Sunday prepared us to know that the Lenten season is the time to resist Satan with all his temptations. We learned that Satan is not happy to see us preparing ourselves spiritually to celebrate the mystery of our faith at Easter. The way he tempted Jesus in the desert is the same way he temps us today to prevent us from being members of God’s kingdom that Jesus came to establish on earth, which we will celebrate in Easter. We need to resist him. Then, the liturgy of this second Sunday teaches us that the Lenten season is our “journey of faith,” which leads us to celebrate our new lives with the Resurrected Jesus in Easter.

Our first reading is the story of Abraham's testing. God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his promised son, Isaac, as a burning offering. This is the climax of Abraham’s long “journey of faith,” which started in Chapter 12 when God called him to leave his land and go where God would indicate him (Genesis 12: 1-4).  Abraham did not hesitate to sacrifice his son Isaac to God. Seeing Abraham’s great faith, God ordered him not to kill his son. He provided him with a single ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of his son (Genesis 22: 10-13). At the end of this story, God blessed Abraham and promised to make his descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore. Notice how God included all of us in this blessing. He says,And in your descendants, all the nations of the earth will find blessing because you obeyed my command.” (v. 18). So, Abraham became the father of faith for all the nations. Although his “journey of faith” was painful and challenging, Abraham did not give up his faith in God. This is what we are called to do in our own “journey of faith” this Lent. Let us continue to trust God and never give up. This is what our Gospel also teaches us.

 Likewise, the story of the Transfiguration we heard in today’s Gospel passage, for all the Synoptic Gospels, marks the “beginning of the end” of the earthly life of Jesus. After the Transfiguration, Jesus began his “journey of faith” toward Jerusalem, culminating with his Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. The Transfiguration of Jesus was also the foretaste of the climax of the “journey of faith” that the disciples of Jesus started. Jesus uses his Transfiguration to show his disciples what they will look like in the heavenly kingdom. This is to encourage them to continue to follow him even if it costs them to sacrifice their lives. Likewise, in this Lenten season, all of us are on our “journey of faith,” which will conclude in the Passion Week when our sinful states die with Jesus, and in Easter when we receive new lives with our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

The historical context of this story is on the critical detail at the beginning of verse 2 that the lectionary has omitted. Verse 2 is like this: “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them” (v. 2, NAMBRE). The “After six days” indicates what happened before the event of the Transfiguration. In the verses that immediately precede our story, Jesus, for the first time, told his disciples about his passion, death, and resurrection, which were going to take place in Jerusalem (Mark 8: 31-33). He also instructed them on discipleship conditions, which involved self-denial and carrying one’s cross for anyone who wished to follow him (Mark 8: 34-38). Mark says that the Transfiguration story happened six days after the disciples and the crowds who were following Jesus learned these painful instructions for the first time. We can understand their attitude at that moment. Undoubtedly, they were anxious, discouraged, and troubled. They indeed lost their enthusiasm and motivation for discipleship. They were about to abandon following Jesus.

In this context of discouragement, six days later, Jesus selected three of them (Peter, John, and James), led them up a high mountain apart by themselves, and made them experience his transfiguration as the foretaste of the glory of eternal life in heaven that is awaiting all those who follow him until the end of their lives. Jesus' divine glory overcomes his death and that of his followers. These three disciples had a mission to share with their companions this magnificent experience to encourage each other not to give up their discipleship. Jesus continues to do the same thing with us, especially in this Lenten season. He selects you and me and leads us up a high mountain, our Church, “Our Lady Star of the Sea,” where he transfigures before us at each Eucharistic celebration (Mass) we attend. He makes us foretaste the glory of the Transfiguration to encourage us to continue our “journey of faith” until the end, no matter the difficulties we may encounter.

Mark reports that in the Transfiguration of Jesus, Elijah and Moses appeared and conversed with Jesus (v. 4). Elijah and Moses represent prophetical books and books of law, respectively, the main two parts of the Jewish Bible. So, the presence of Elijah and Moses here means that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.    

Peter enjoys the divine glory of the Transfiguration. He makes a special request to build three tents there: one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus (v. 5). The narrator comments that Peter did not know what he was saying because they were so terrified (v.6). Then, the voice of God coming from the cloud, which cast a shadow over them, revealed to them that Jesus is his Beloved Son, and they need to listen to him. (V. 7). On their way down from the mountain, Jesus charged them to relate their experience of the Transfiguration only after his resurrection.

Through his request, Peter desires to remain in this divine glory for good. He wants to enjoy Jesus’ glorification without passing through the Passion and Death of Jesus. Sometimes, we act as Peter did. In the context of this liturgical season, many Christians like to celebrate Easter but do not like to repent and live out the observances of Lent, which are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. There is no Easter without Lent. There is no glory in God’s kingdom without taking up our crosses and following Christ.

 Through the cloud of the Transfiguration, God speaks to these three disciples and each of us that to enjoy the divine glory, we need to listen to his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. What do we need to listen to specifically? We must listen to what Jesus instructed us in the verses that immediately precede our text. Let us repeat them.  Jesus, for the first time, told his disciples about his Passion and Death that would occur in Jerusalem, where they were going (Mark 8: 31-33). This way of the cross is the way that God chose to glorify his Son and all those who follow him like us today. The second thing that Jesus told them that we must listen to is the instruction regarding the condition of discipleship. Whoever wishes to be Jesus’ disciple must deny himself or herself, take up his or her own crosses, and follow him (Mark 8: 34-38). So, the voice of God called these three disciples and all of us to accept the “journey of faith,” which entails the cross and leads to divine glory.  

The same voice of God encourages us today to listen to Jesus, who calls us to repent and believe in the Gospel (see the Gospel of last Sunday, Mark 1: 12-15, especially v. 15). We need to listen to Jesus, who invites us to first spend 40 days with him in the desert (our desert is this Lenten season) in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This is to be done before we enjoy the glory of a new life in a new creation in his kingdom that he came to initiate here on earth that we will celebrate in Easter. We need to listen to God’s Beloved Son, Jesus, when he calls us to resist Satan with all his temptations, such as the temptation of dividing us, especially in our families, and discouraging us from coming to Church to pray to God and serve him. We need to listen to our Lord Jesus when he asks us to go down from the mountain of the Transfiguration and accept the way of the cross instead of “building three tents” to remain there for good. We should not stay up there in the mountain of the Transfiguration enjoying this divine glory alone while our fellow humans in our families, neighborhoods, and societies need us to minister to them so that they, too, can enjoy this heavenly glory one day.

That is why at the end of each Mass, Jesus, through the celebrant priest, tells us, “The Mass is ended; go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Some priests prefer the shortcut, “The Mass is ended, go in peace.” These words mean that it is not a good idea to remain in the Church, our mountain of Transfiguration, for good. At each Celebration of the Eucharist that we attend, we do the same experience that Peter, James, and John did in this story of the Transfiguration of our Lord. Moreover, Jesus transfigures our souls to look like his Transfigured Body through his Word that we hear in the Scripture readings and his Body and Blood that we share in the Holy Communion. At the end of the Mass, we should not remain in the Church for good, as Peter requested. Instead, Jesus sends us out to love and serve our brothers and sisters so that they, too, come to Church and enjoy the divine glory of the Mass.    

 The Liturgy of this Second Sunday of Lent reminds us that the Lenten season is our “journey of faith.” Although this “journey of faith” is challenging as it entails crosses, the glory of the Transfiguration that we experience at each Mass must motivate us to persevere until we reach the destination. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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