In this beautiful homily for 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C, Father Hanly leads in to the Transfiguration with lovely insights into the feelings of the disciples as the mood of Jesus’ journey changes.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14
Second Reading: Philippians 3:17–4:1 or 3:20–4:1
Gospel: Luke 9:28-36
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
At first, it was a very, very popular journey. Many people, so many people gathered around the Lake of Galilee that he had to get into Peter’s boat and push off into the water so that all those around him could find a place and hear his word of compassion and forgiveness, of a new reality, in effect, of the beginning of the Messianic Age. And people were cured and happy to see the wonders that he worked.
And so he progressed further and further away from Jerusalem, until we find him, during this period, at the very edges of the country. And things have changed. No more crowds. No more people screaming and waiting for him to address them. No more miracles of great order. For Jesus, God and the people have come to a new understanding.
You see, God does not want a popular hero to manifest the true meaning of the coming of the Messiah and what it means for the incarnation of God Himself to dwell among us. He’s not looking for heroes. He’s not looking for people that are celebrities and turn our heads and have us pant after them.
He is looking for the suffering servant, the obedient servant, the one who, in a very radical way, will manifest the greatness of God, will manifest what it means to be a follower of Jesus the Messiah.
And the lesson is very, very painful for the disciples. They begin to wonder and doubt as the crowds begin to leave him and he wends his way down towards Jerusalem, all the way telling them that they go to Jerusalem where he must suffer and he must die. And this is very, very bad news for them and they’re in a kind of a Never Never Land.
And, as they walk along, Jesus cures, and he cares for and he reaches out to people. But he is no longer trying to attract great crowds to hear the message. For he knows the message is going to be carried on by his disciples, the few who believe in him, that he is indeed the Messiah, not for what they will get out of it, but because he is compassionate, he is loving, he offers hope, he offers a new world, he offers a new way of relating, he offers all these things.
And, at the same time, his enemies begin to grow in force and power, and there are dark clouds in each place he goes, and people who wait and watch to trap him in his speech, to delay his journey, to trip him up so that they can expose him as a fraud.
And the disciples, who were just fisherman, feel this. They were quite happy when he was kind of the most popular person, the travelling rabbi. And now that he has finally decided that they must understand what it really means to be a Christian and so he comes down and his enemies gather strength and even he himself is drained by it, he himself wonders why they have all left.
There’s a story that I’m fond of telling. It’s about a holy man comes to the village. And when he comes, the holy man goes to the centre and he begins to preach. And crowds and crowds, the whole village, is there. And he is preaching. And he is very effective.
And, slowly, they begin to get a little bored, and they begin to go away, one by one, until, finally, there is only one man standing listening to him preach the coming of the Kingdom. And the little man looks up at him and he says, “Preacher, can’t you see? Nobody is here listening.”
And the preacher says to him, and he smiles, he said: “I came to preach to all the crowds about the goodness of God, about the coming of the Kingdom, but now I only preach to myself. You see, I do not preach to others, but I preach to my own heart, because in my heart I know the story is true.”
So Jesus now finds himself coming down. And he knows his disciples are going to be thrown one way or another, believing and unbelieving, doubting and fearing. And as they realise that they’ve become more and more of a minority and they are not the popular people that they once were, they get a little bit angry with each other and misunderstanding.
But Jesus is like that preacher. He knows he carries the truth. He carries the truth for all of them. But people are very fickle. Today, they believe; tomorrow, they do something that’s more interesting. But not Jesus. Jesus walks the whole way, from beginning to end, through glory and through pain, through joy and through the bitterness of life and what it throws up to someone who believes deeply and truly in what he is saying and what he is doing.
And then he goes up to a mountain. And Luke, who was well versed by St Paul, for he was St Paul’s convert, he knows that the mountain is the sacred place. It was the place of Moses where the covenant was given. It is the place you walk to to pray when everything else fails. And so Jesus raised Peter, James and John, his three favourites, up to the mountain.
And the disciples are kind of tired from their journey. And Jesus kneels down and begins to pray. And I’m sure he prays and prays, asking his Father, “What does it all mean?” It’s an intimacy shared.
And then, suddenly, something happens, and his face shines like the sun, as Moses’ did when he received the covenant two thousand years before on Mount Sinai. And his garments turned to brilliant light and it seems to be all through him is the light of God’s truth and the light of God’s hope for the human race.
And the disciples begin to wake up a bit from their dreams. And they see Jesus. And not only Jesus, but they see Moses, the promise of the covenant, the beginning of the people of God, who promised one day the Messiah would come and one day the Messiah would teach them all things. And Elijah, Elijah the prophet who never wrote a word down but is probably the greatest prophet in the Old Testament who constantly came to a people running away from their responsibilities to the covenant and bringing them back, and bringing them back to where they belonged, the children of God.
And they begin to talk. And Luke tells us they are talking about Jesus’ exodus. The exodus means, as you know, from Egypt in to the Promised Land. But it’s a symbol. The exodus is a symbol that you begin in slavery and you walk through the waters to freedom. And they begin to speak and talk and discuss what is going to happen to Jesus in Jerusalem. That he will suffer. That it will be full of angry people instead of cheering mobs. And that, ultimately, he’ll be all alone, all by himself.
And then Peter begins to understand that they’re experiencing something, a vision of some very, very great import, but he doesn’t know what he is talking about. He says, “Let us build then three little altars here, three little tents, as a memory of you: one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah the prophet.” And Jesus looks at him and he shakes his head, wondering, “Will they never understand?”
And, suddenly, there is the cloud, the great cloud that went before the Israelites. It’s the sign and symbol of the presence of God, carrying them through forty years of pain and suffering to the Promised Land. It is the cloud that speaks for God when Jesus is baptised. And it’s almost the same words. Out of the cloud comes a voice. It says, “This is my beloved Son. Just listen to him.” Beautiful words. “Just listen to him.”
And, of course, Jesus is reassured that his Father has not left him. And the disciples are dumbfounded, and they do not know what these words mean, but it is a great gift, for they know that he is not just Jesus, the young man who preaches well about the coming of the Messiah, but he is God Himself, sharing the future as well as the present.
And he knows, because Jesus knows, Jesus knows that this is a sign for them, that when they see the terrible things that are going to happen and that are a total rejection of the Messiah, that their faith will hold.
But their faith doesn’t hold. Well it kind of holds. When the time comes, they scatter and run away, and there is only John left at the foot of the cross.
It’s a great story. And what Luke wants us to understand, and what is passed down all through the centuries, is that the journey with Jesus is a journey that we all go together. It is a journey that, when we embrace Jesus in faith, we walk with him to our own Jerusalem. We walk with him through life, leading us safely home to his Father in heaven.
But, along the way, there is very, very many difficulties, many troubles, many things that must be overcome. And we must remember the brilliance of Jesus, who is almost speaking from another world, telling us: “Do not be afraid, for I have passed through all these things, and I tell you there is nothing but light, there is nothing but joy, there is nothing but a transcendence, a transfigured world, and you will make it possible if only your faith will hold.”
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This homily was delivered on 28th February 2010.
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