Chapter Talk – Second Sunday of Lent – March 5, 2023, cycle-A
Commenting on the Transfiguration, Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar indicates the reality of what it will mean for Peter and the other disciples to follow Jesus: “To truly hear and really be overshadowed will be their lot only after Easter” (Light of the Word, p.55). The ‘not understanding’, the ‘not hearing’ of Peter and the disciples is vivid in this gospel of the Transfiguration. It takes time does it not to understand deep spiritual truths. That we have resistance is part of the struggle to understand and to truly hear…And our struggle is not unlike what the disciples went through. What creates the light of understanding? What helps us to ‘truly hear’? What is this overshadowing? Overshadowed by what? Remember where we first hear this image of ‘overshadowing’? Mary, at the Annunciation, was overshadowed by the Spirit. Today’s gospel of the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9) reveals the overshadowing of Jesus by the Spirit…and then he is transfigured, bathed in Divine light. And we hear, like at his baptism, the Divine voice saying to the disciples and to us: “Listen to him”.
Whenever we have all three gospel accounts aligned the same, we should give special attention to it. In the case of the Transfiguration, all three synoptic gospels precede this passage with the first prophecy of the passion followed by the central paradox of the gospels: “Whoever wants to be a follower of mine, let them renounce themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life, for my sake will find it” (Mt 17:34-36). After these words, we then read that Jesus ascends the mountain to pray taking with him three disciples: Peter, James, and John. As the three disciples behold the glory that is bestowed on Jesus clearly, they forget the teaching they had just heard, or minimally they push it in the back of their consciousness. Fear overtakes them in the experience on Mount Tabor. Is fear perhaps one element that inhibits their understanding, that blocks their hearing? The way of Jesus is clear: there is no glory without the cross. Pope Francis says it in these words: “Transfigured on Mount Tabor, Jesus wanted to show his disciples his glory, not for them to circumvent the Cross, but to show where the Cross leads. Those who die with Jesus, shall rise again with Jesus. The Cross is the door to Resurrection” (Angelus, March 12, 2017).
Jesus is again overshadowed by God’s love in the Transfiguration. Inherent in this over-shadowing is the ‘cross’. For love to perdure it needs sacrifice, suffering. The disciples will be overshadowed after the Resurrection because only then will they be fully aware of what it means to follow Jesus, only then will they understand what it means to embody God’s love. They will learn, to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s image, that there is no cheap grace; there is only costly grace. And costly grace involves the gift of self. We are as this gospel says: ‘to listen to Jesus’.
To truly hear, to truly listen: perhaps this is the greatest gift we can give to one another. Listening is the heartbeat of community life. In the words of Bonhoeffer: “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word but also lends us God’s ear….We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.” We are, during Lent, following Jesus, walking with Jesus to Jerusalem. With him we are overshadowed by God’s love, we are overshadowed by the cross, our own cross and the larger cross of a suffering humanity. We must never forget that inherent in any cross is the pulsating love of God at the center. This is the love that has the power to transfigure our lives, the life of a community, the Church, and, yes, the world.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess