Second Sunday of Lent (Year A)

First reading                       Genesis 12:1-4

Responsorial Psalm          Psalm 32(33):4-5,18-20,22

Second reading                   2 Timothy 1:8-10

Gospel                                   Matthew 17:1-9

When Jesus was baptised, upon coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and a voice resounded on the waters. Do you remember what that voice said? Upon the waters of Baptism, the Father proclaimed, “this is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour.” Last weekend, while Jesus was fasting in the desert, we heard the devil cast doubt on these words: “If you are the Son of God”, he said, “tell these stones to turn into loaves” or “if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” With this phrase “if you are the Son of God”, Satan was either attempting to cast doubt on Jesus’ divine sonship revealed at the Baptism or, tempting him to abuse the power of that sonship. Well, today we hear God the Father reinforce those same words from the Baptism, crushing Satan’s twisting of those words. He proclaims before the transfigured Jesus, radiant with light, “this is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour – listen to him.” The repetition of this declaration ties together the scenes of the Baptism, the desert and the Transfiguration. After the Father’s first declaration at the Baptism, Jesus was led into the desert where he was tempted by Satan. We pondered this scene last weekend, but we would do well to recall some of its details today, for it will shed light on today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration. 

In one of the three temptations, Jesus was taken up “a very high mountain”, from which the devil “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He promised to give this glory to Jesus if Jesus would fall at his feet and worship him. In today’s Gospel, Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a “high mountain”, just as the devil did to Jesus. But in this case, they see not “the kingdoms of the world and their glory”, they catch a glimpse rather of the kingdom of heaven, seeing the glory of a transfigured Christ, radiant with light from his very person. They then see Moses and Elijah, telling us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. They then hear the Father’s voice, the same declaration as at Jesus’ baptism. And, we are told, “they fell on their faces, overcome with fear.” This was not the kind of fear we experience upon encountering a snake or a shark, since they didn’t run away, but “they fell on their faces”. That is, they touched their foreheads to the ground in the gesture of worship. The fear they experienced is the reverential fear of God, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that allows us to worship God in spirit and truth. While Jesus refused to fall down and worship Satan for the glory of all the kingdoms of this world, Jesus’ disciples rightly fall down and worship him as they comprehend that Jesus is the Beloved, the Son in whom the glory of the kingdom of heaven lies open.

But what is it that the Transfiguration properly reveals? For a fuller picture, we must consider last week’s readings again. Jesus appeared in the desert where he fasted for forty days and was plagued by the same threefold temptation that caused humanity’s fall in the beginning. The desert, we remember, is the opposite to the Garden. It represents the loss of the Garden of Eden and the lasting effects of sin. Empty, lifeless, harsh and inhabitable, Jesus entered it and dwelt there with the ancient serpent, whom he resisted. In that place of death, temptation, aloneness and deprivation of the senses, Jesus clings to the Father alone. In doing so, this mortification gives birth to a new humanity, forged in the desert, in whom the effects of sin are reversed. This is revealed and exemplified in today’s gospel scene of the Transfiguration. His form is changed such that his face shines like the sun and his clothes become as light. The Father calls him “the Beloved”, that is, the one in whom all the love, which is the very essence of God the Father, resides. In other words, here he shows us a humanity that is perfectly united and permeated with the divinity. While this is who Jesus is by nature, the point for us is this is who we are being invited to become by grace! By traversing the desert and enduring all the effects of sin in absolute fidelity to God the Father, even unto death on the cross, Jesus shows us the path to our own divinisation, to union with God, which is our ultimate end and fulfillment. My friends, this is what salvation is! Salvation is not just a tick against our name and admittance to heaven like they admit you through the gate at a music festival! That has nothing to do with heaven! Salvation is the utter transformation of our nature after the pattern of the crucified and risen Jesus, unto complete and perfect union with God. It is to become, by grace, what Jesus is, namely “the Beloved” laid bare on the mountain of the Transfiguration!

Dear friends, the Lenten journey through the desert that we are currently on, which is a microcosm of the entire Christian life, ends in what we catch a glimpse of today. Our final destination is the glorified Christ who, having suffered, is perfectly transformed and united with the Father. This is our ultimate end and perfection. This is what it is we are trying to become. Dear brothers and sisters, let us hold the transfigured Christ before our eyes every day of our life, then, and pray the Holy Spirit to change us, and to make us, by his grace, more and more into the image and likeness of his Beloved Son, crucified and risen.


2 responses to “Second Sunday of Lent (Year A)”

  1. Excellent message Tom, I was encouraged as the message clearly gave us the picture of how Jesus’ baptism, temptation and transfiguration all related with God hitting the heart of Satan’s approach.
    And at the same time God’s approach and work in us – I liked the illustration how salvation is not a box ticked, it is not something we work out and see as done and dusted. It is God’s transforming work in us through Jesus – it is only to God through Jesus are we able to acknowledge God as The God and repent of our sin and sinful condition.
    No matter where we look in the world or other people/persons – the forgiveness and transformation we seek is only through Jesus.
    Very much enjoy and am encouraged with your messages Tom.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Father Tom, for tying the the EVENTS together to give a much fuller picture for us to ponder. God bless.


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