Genesis 12:1-4a Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 2 Corinthians 1:8b-10 Matthew 17:1-9
Have you ever had a “mountain top experience?” I had mine the summer before I entered the convent (as the monastery was known then). I had always wanted to see the Rocky Mountains but figured that once I entered I would never get there – or anywhere. However, my father had a business trip out west in July and took me along. And so I found myself in the Rocky Mountains – not quite at the top – but pretty far up where the air was clear and with white clouds dotting the blue sky here and there. There was a sense of sacredness in the quiet and serenity of the mountain and a fantastic panoramic view of a great expanse of beauty. I knew I was loved and blessed to be there.
Trips to the mountain were not unusual for Jesus. In the gospel for the second Sunday of Lent Matthew recounts a most extraordinary mountain top experience of Jesus – the Transfiguration. Jesus went up “a high mountain” with three of his trusted disciples. And “He was transfigured before them.” Transfigured – changed, in a glorified, spiritual way that was visible. Jesus was in conversation with Moses, the Law giver, and Elijah, the Prophet. And, according to Matthew, Peter, James and John saw it all: Jesus transfigured, Moses and Elijah, and the cloud, from which they heard a voice proclaiming Jesus as “my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” and a command to “Listen to him.”
I found myself asking: What did Jesus go up to the mountain top to see, to experience? The scriptures tell us that Jesus often withdrew to be alone to pray, to spend time in communion with God. Is that why he went to the mountain top? In the Gospel of Matthew the Transfiguration is preceded by Jesus’ question to his disciples about his identity – “Who do people say that I am?” – and by his prophetic words about his passion and death, and the cost of discipleship. Did he need to be strengthened for what he knew was to come in his fidelity to God’s call?
And why take companions with him? Because he needed some human support and affirmation as well as time in communion with God? And why these three? Was it because he knew he could count on them? Later they were with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Did Jesus know that they would need spiritual support and strength as they accompanied him and carried on his mission?
Matthew does not record what Jesus and Moses and Elijah talked about, but their visible presence spoke volumes to Peter, James and John. Jesus and the disciples heard the words spoken from the cloud: words of love and belonging and words of hope and encouragement. The only words we hear from Jesus on the mountain are spoken to the three disciples: “Rise and do not be afraid.” Jesus was strengthened. So were the disciples. Those words are for us too.
The gospel life has its mountain tops and its plains and even its valleys. May this Lent prepare us to live the fullness of the gospel life!
Where do you find a place for reflection and prayer?
Who are the people you can count on for support in living the gospel life?
Sister Kathy White, OSB, Emmanuel Monastery, Lutherville, MD