Second Sunday in Lent

One day a seven-year-old girl was dancing playfully in the center of the living room while her father was reading a book. Her whirling motion caught his attention. He watched her spin, her arms flinging wide and her hair tossing as she twirled gracefully about. Suddenly, in the delightful expression of her smile, and the charming manner in which her soft hair fell across her cheeks, and the play of sunlight falling across her beautiful form, he experienced a moment in which he saw his little girl not as a child of seven, but as the grown woman she would become at twenty-one. It was a wonderful moment, and frightening as well. Then she stopped in front of him, the light changed, and she was a child again. It was wonderful because he saw her as the beautiful, mature woman she would become. It was also frightening because he saw that he could not hold on to his little girl forever, and he knew the pains she would experience in growing to maturity.

In the Transfiguration of Jesus, we catch a glimpse of the future, a revelation of Jesus in the fullness of glory, in all his loveliness. “The mystery of Jesus’ Transfiguration is the unique moment in time when the Father seduces our hearts with the beauty of his Son.1 In ecstasy, Peter cries out, “It is good for us to be here…” The Greek word he uses is kalon, which means not only good but beautiful.  It is a wonderful, overwhelmingly delightful moment that Peter wishes would go on forever and ever. For a short time, the three apostles see Jesus in the fullness of what is true, good and beautiful.  Jesus radiates a happiness that sweeps over them and inside them, ravishing their hearts. Before this vision, the apostles were captivated by the mystery of Jesus. Now they fall in love with him.

For the first time in the history of creation we see humanity as God wanted it to be, fully transformed with the power and pleasure of divinity. We won’t see it again until we enter the kingdom of heaven. Even after the Resurrection, the beauty of Jesus’ humanity remained mostly hidden. Now, on top of Mount Tabor, for a brief moment, we get to see Jesus as God the Father and the Holy Spirit see him. And we see the future in a blinding light that hides more than it reveals.

As the rays of light burst forth from the body and clothing of Jesus, the voice of the Father bursts out of the bright cloud as it did at the baptism of Jesus. The Father’s words here and at Jesus’ baptism are almost identical. Once again we hear the only thing that the Father is ever recorded as saying in the New Testament: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'”2 Remembering this experience many years later, Peter writes, “[We] do well to be attentive to this [vision] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19).

Why? Because the Transfiguration of Jesus’ humanity is a revelation of our own future. God has destined us to be conformed to the image of his Son. We will also be transfigured. Such is our Father’s love for us! And yet because of us, Jesus was not yet on the way to his kingdom in heaven but on the way to his cross on the hill of Calvary. And that is another sign of God’s love for us, as the following true story about a father and his teenage daughter illustrates.

The girl always came home late for supper. There was no reason for her tardiness, and no amount of discussion seemed to help. Finally, in desperation, her father sat down with her and said, “If you’re late again, bread and water will be put at your place for supper, and nothing else. So, please, be on time.” She nodded. But a few days later she was late again. Her parents were waiting for her. When she approached the table, she saw a delicious steak and mashed potatoes covered with hot gravy on their dinner plates, and glasses of wine at the side. But at her place there was a lonely glass of water next to a single slice of bread on a bare plate. Her parents waited for the full impact to sink in. Then her father quietly took the girl’s plate and glass of water and put them in front of himself. He took his own plate and wine and put them in front of his daughter. Years later the girl said, “All my life I’ve known what God’s love is like by what my father did for me that night.3

Jesus, the Father’s Beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased, shows us by his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor the high calling for which we are destined. Then Jesus takes our place, takes our punishment upon himself by going to Calvary, so that we may have a change of heart, and be transfigured like Jesus forever.

  1. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, vol. 2, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 561.
  2. Ibid, p. 555.
  3. Rev. Bill Bausch, in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers.