The Second Sunday of Lent [B]
Genesis 22:1-2,9,10-13,15-18 + Romans 8:31-34 + Mark 9:2-10
So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
When we gaze at the Transfiguration, we notice something odd in this passage. It’s found in its last two sentences. If this passage had ended two sentences earlier, with the voice of God the Father speaking of His “beloved Son”, the passage would have ended on a high note, leading us to worship Jesus in adoration. Instead, the two final sentences make us wonder what Jesus is up to.
First, St. Mark tells us that: “As they were coming down from the mountain, [Jesus] charged [Peter, James and John] not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” This is another of those common cases in the Gospel accounts of Jesus wanting His disciples to keep His full identity a secret. The evangelist then tells us that these three “kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.”
This questioning shows that they don’t understand what the Transfiguration is all about. There’s another point in this Gospel passage that also shows their ignorance, and that’s the exclamation that Peter makes to Jesus: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Peter’s suggestion is so simple that we might overlook what he means. Tents mean something different to us today. Tents mean camping, recreation, and relaxation in the great outdoors. Tents in ancient days—when many persons and extended families were nomadic—meant putting down roots, staking a claim, and not moving on. So tents to Peter meant permanence. They meant having arrived. But this is where Jesus has to call Peter to a better way.
Peter was like someone who had invested in the stock market and suddenly seen one of his stocks skyrocket to 100 times the purchase price, motivating him to sell it. He couldn’t imagine anything greater, so he wanted to get out while the getting was good, and rest where he was.
The problem for Peter was that Jesus had no plans to rest. Jesus had a journey to make. He didn’t come into this world for rest and comfort. So Peter, likely reluctantly, followed Jesus back down the mountain, knowing that He had to stay with Jesus if he ever wanted to see such brilliance, beauty, and glory again.
What Peter did not know at that point, but which you and I know, is where the rest of the journey is going to take Jesus and Peter. Jesus implicitly tells Peter where they’re headed when He charges the apostles “not to relate what they had seen… [until] the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
It was probably fortunate that Peter did not know that “rising from the dead” meant Jesus rising on the third day after being nailed to a cross. If Peter had known this, he would likely have run away, even after having witnessed the Transfiguration. In the end, of course, Peter did run away, simply after Jesus’ arrest.
Nonetheless, at this point in their journey, Jesus planted that seed in the apostles’ minds, and it began to germinate during the remainder of Jesus’ public ministry. Whenever in their memories they saw the sight of the Transfigured Jesus, they also must have heard that strange phrase: “rising from the dead”. Jesus helped them always to link these two: “rising”, and “death”. In other words, there is no Resurrection without death. There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There is no empty tomb without the Deposition of the Body of Christ within the tomb.
All of us, I’m sure, would admit that our Lenten resolutions, as well as what the Church demands regarding fasting and abstinence, are small sacrifices compared to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. If we recognize this as true, we can see that only God’s grace can conform our lives to the life, suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Our small sacrifices are only the kindling that allows the wood of the Cross to set ablaze with the fire of God’s love in our hearts.