Occasion: Second Sunday of Lent, Year C
You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Gospel reading, Luke 6:39-45.
Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.
Stand-out words and phrases
overcome by sleep, up the mountain, his glory, they became frightened, did not at that time
One of the refreshing aspects of the gospels is how ordinary the apostles behave. Anyone who has tried to pray more than a few words knows how difficult it can be to remain focused on the prayer. Take comfort: even the apostles, who have a “greater than Solomon” present, have a hard time staying awake during prayer! It is not only on “the mountain” that sleep overcomes them; it will overcome them anew in the Garden of Gethesemane. Only our Lord maintains prayer at such times.
Despite their sloth, God grants them a magnificent vision, where Moses and Elijah join our Lord in brilliant glory and speak of “his exodus that he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Jesus is the new Moses, leading us out of a land of slavery — slavery to what? slavery to the lord of this world, a pharoah who oppresses us routinely. Christ is our liberator; to follow him is to pass out of our spiritual Egypt — and where to? Not immediately to the land flowing with milk and honey, but rather through the desert. The apostles themselves will have to pass through his Passion before they can see the glorious resurrection.
For some, the supernatural character of this vision serves as a sign that it is a fiction, but several aspects suggest otherwise. First, all three evangelists report an identical story. It is “a” mountain — no particular mountain is named. Both Moses and Elijah spoke with God face-to-face, and we know the names of these mountains: Moses on Mount Sinai, Elijah on Mount Horeb, which the Book of Kings curiously calls “the mountain of God.” An invented story would certainly deserve a name of significance, associated with God’s presence. Instead, the evangelist offers us a nameless mountain somewhere in Palestine.
Also curious is the choice of personages: why Moses and Elijah? Moses makes some sort of sense, as he is the giver of the law, and Christ gives a new law. We observed above that Christ is also a new Moses on account of the spiritual exodus that he leads.
But Elijah? Of course he symbolizes the prophets, but why choose him? Unlike most other prophets named in the Bible, Elijah left no writings. Isaiah’s writings, for instance, point so clearly to the Messiah that some have called his book “the fifth gospel.” Yet the evangelists name Elijah — Not David the King, nor Abraham the father of the people, but Elijah, a man hated by kings, clerics, and countrymen because he revealed the lies of the followers of a false and foreign god.
Another observation: while all the evangelists speak of a blinding brilliance in Jesus’ clothing, and both Matthew and Luke relate that his face became more blinding than the sun, Luke makes the specific point that this glory is Jesus’ glory, pointing thereby to his divinity. Peter speaks, but is so overwhelmed that he hardly know what to say (again, two evangelists attest to this) — and then the Father reveals his relation to the Son, in a manner even more awesome, or frightening, than what came before.
It overwhelmed them, so much that they said nothing to anyone at that time. We often see this in true encounters with the divine: the experience can be overwhelming, reducing one to silence. How can one communicate to others what one has just experienced? Some things are best communicated when people see that your life has changed for ever.