2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 22:1–2, 9, 10–13, 15–18; Romans 8:31–34; Mark 9:2–10

Mountains and Valleys
Faith has its peaks and troughs. If we remain faithful at all times, God will bless us with lasting life.

John Updike wrote a short story called “Pigeon Feathers.” It’s about a young boy, David, who begins to have doubts about his faith.

One night in bed David is thinking about his problem. Suddenly he decides upon a bold experiment. He takes his hands from under the covers, lifts them above his head,
and asks Jesus to touch them.

As David waits breathlessly, he thinks he feels something touch his hands; but he’s not sure. After a while he returns his hands to the covers, not sure if they had been touched or not.

We can all relate to David in this scene.

We too experience times when our faith
seems to disappear or go behind a cloud.
When this happens,
we long desperately for a sign that God is real
and that Jesus is the Son of God.

We too experience times when our faith seems to disappear or go behind a cloud. When this happens, we long desperately for a sign that God is real and that Jesus is the Son of God.

Or to put it another way, we long for a sign of Jesus’ glory, like the one Peter, James, and John received in today’s gospel.

This raises a question. Why did Peter, James, and John
receive this special sign of Jesus’ glory?

One reason may have been what happened a few days earlier,
when Jesus told his disciples he was going to suffer and die in Jerusalem.

Matthew says that when Peter heard this, he cried out,

“God forbid it, Lord!” he said.
“That must never happen to you!”
Jesus turned around and said to Peter:
“Get away from me, Satan!
You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don’t come from God, but from human nature.”
Matthew 16:22–23

Peter, James, and John probably needed a spiritual shot in the arm after that shocking experience.

Perhaps that’s also why the Church includes this gospel
in its Sunday Lenten readings. The Church wants to give us a spiritual shot in the arm before it turns our attention to the passion and death of Jesus in Jerusalem on Good Friday.

This brings up a big point about faith. Our faith is often like a roller coaster.
It has ups and downs.
It has high points and low points.
It has mountains and valleys.

In other words, there are times when our faith burns bright.
There are other times, however, when it flickers and nearly goes out. Let me illustrate.

In today’s gospel, the faith of Peter, James, and John is bright and strong. But in a few months their faith will flicker and almost fail. It will happen in a garden called Gethsemane,
on another mountain, the Mount of Olives. Matthew describes it this way:

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them,
‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’
He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee
[James and John].
Grief and anguish came over him, and he said to them,

‘The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me’ ” Matthew 26:36–38

Shortly afterward
“a large crowd armed with swords and clubs”
came looking for Jesus. The three disciples, whose faith was so strong in today’s gospel, panicked and ran for their lives. Worse yet, Peter even denied he knew Jesus.

And so, too, our faith goes through high points and low points.

When we are expecting a high point, our faith is strong and bright, like the disciples’ faith in today’s gospel.
During a high point, we feel so close to Jesus that we can touch him. We feel so close to God the Father that he seems to have his arm around us. And the Holy Spirit seems to speak to us.

On the other hand, when we are experiencing a low point,
our faith flickers and almost goes out, like the disciples’
faith in the Garden of Gethsemane.

During a low point, Jesus seems to have lost his fight to Satan.
The Father seems to have left us orphans. And the Holy Spirit seems as far away as last year.

One author compares the high points and the low points of faith to life itself.

During high points, life is beautiful.
We love everyone.
We hug our friends and we forgive all our enemies. On such a day, we wonder how we ever thought life could be difficult.

But during low points, nothing goes right.
“We feel oppressed and sinned against, misjudged, out of place, and lost. It’s a time when we number more enemies than we have and find fault with every friend.

On such a day, it is difficult to know why we ever thought life easy.” Anthony Padovano
Faith is like that too, following the rhythms of happiness and sadness, ecstasy and agony, light and darkness.

When moments of darkness come, we should follow the example of Abraham in today’s first reading.
Abraham’s faith flickered and almost failed when he thought God was asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It pained Abraham’s heart and confused his mind. But Abraham trusted God. And God didn’t let him down. God blessed him beyond his wildest dreams.

In a similar way, God tests our faith. When this happens, our hearts are pained and our minds are confused. But if we trust God, as Abraham did, God will not let us down. In the end, God will bless us, too. beyond our wildest dreams.

The Apostle James puts it this way:

“Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because
when they succeed in passing such a test, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

And so this is the good news of today’s readings.

It reminds us that faith is a lot like life. Faith has its mountains and its valleys. When we are standing on a mountain, it is easy to believe and to love God. But when we are standing in a valley, it is hard to believe and to love.

But if we remain faithful during these trials, God will reward us with the life that he has promised to those who love him.



Series II
2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 22:1–2, 9, 10–13, 15–18; Romans 8:31–34; Mark 9:2–10

Peak Moment
Jesus’ transfiguration highlights his divine dimension.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow tells this story of a young mother.

One morning she was getting breakfast for her young family.
The kitchen was filled with sunlight, her children were laughing and talking, and her husband was playing with the littlest one.

As she scurried about spreading jam on toast and pouring orange juice, she was suddenly overwhelmed with joy and love for her family. Tears filled her eyes and she became so choked up that she could hardly speak.

Maslow calls such a moment as this a peak moment.

It’s a moment when for a few precious seconds or minutes
we see an ordinary event in an extraordinary way.

It’s a moment when God seems to shine through the things around us and we glimpse another world beyond this one.
The idea of a peak moment helps us understand what the disciples Peter, James, and John experienced in today’s gospel. They experienced a peak moment.

For a few precious minutes, they saw Jesus in a totally different way.

For a few precious minutes, they saw God shine through the external person of Jesus.

For a few precious minutes, they got a glimpse of a world beyond this one.

For a few precious minutes, they saw from the outside of Jesus what he was on the inside: the glorious, beautiful Son of God.

This raises a question. Why is the gospel story of the transfiguration of Jesus placed among the somber readings of the season of Lent?

Why isn’t it placed among the glorious readings of the season of Easter?

The answer to this question lies in the context in which the transfiguration takes place. It takes place right after Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

When Peter heard Jesus say this, he cried out,
“God forbid it, Lord!” he said.
“That must never happen to you!”
Jesus turned around and said to Peter,
“Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don’t come from God, but from human nature.” Matthew 16:22–23

Peter, James, and John needed a spiritual shot in the arm after Jesus’ shocking revelation to them.

Perhaps that’s also why the Church puts the transfiguration
among the somber readings of Lent. The Church wants to give us a shot in the arm before it turns our attention to the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday.

It wants to give us something to hold on to during the painful hours of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.

But there’s another reason why the transfiguration is placed among the Lenten readings.

It’s because the transfiguration is closely related to the agony in the garden.

Both of these events took place on a mountain. The agony in the garden took place on the Mount of Olives.
The transfiguration, on Mount Tabor.

Both events took place at the same time. Each took place at night. And in both events the apostles fell asleep while Jesus remained awake, praying.

Finally, both events were witnessed by the same three apostles: Peter, James, and John.

And this brings us to the connection between the two events.

On Mount Tabor the three apostles saw Jesus in a moment of ecstasy, when Jesus’ divinity shone through him in a way that it had never done before.

On the Mount of Olives, on the other hand, the same three apostles saw Jesus in a moment of agony, when his humanity shone through him in a way that it had never done before.

Jesus’ ecstasy on Mount Tabor and his agony on the Mount of Olives are complementary events.

They are inseparable sides of the same coin.
They show the total Jesus in a total way: his humanity and his divinity.

And it’s right here that these two mountain events contain an important message for us.

Like Jesus, we too have a twofold dimension about us.

In each of us there’s something that’s human and something that’s divine.

In each of us there’s a spark of Adam and a spark of God.

Like Jesus on Mount Tabor, we too experience moments of ecstasy, when the spark of God shines through us so brightly
it almost blinds us. During these moments, we feel so close to God that we feel we can reach out and touch God.

On the other hand, like Jesus on the Mount of Olives,
we also experience moments of agony, when the spark of Adam surfaces so sharply that the spark of God in us flickers and almost dies. We feel so far away from God that we wonder if God even exists.

When these moments of ecstasy and agony come, we should recall the two mountain events: Mount Tabor and the Mount of Olives. We should recall that Jesus experienced these same highs and lows in his life.

We should recall something else.
We should recall that during both events—his ecstasy and his agony—Jesus prayed.

If this was the way that Jesus responded during each event,
it should also be the way that we respond to them.

And if we do respond to them with prayer, then like Jesus during his transfiguration, we too will hear God say to us
what the Father also said to Jesus:
“This is my own dear Son, . . .”

And, like Jesus during his agony, we too will experience
what Jesus experienced in the garden: the touch of the Father’s healing hand.


Series III
2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 22:1–2, 9a, 10–13, 15–18; Romans 8:31b–34; Mark 9:2–10
Who is Jesus?
“With our own eyes we saw his greatness!”

Avoice came from the cloud,
“This is my own dear Son—listen to him!” Mark 9:7

William Blattey wrote a novel called Legion.

In a dramatic scene in the novel a Jewish detective, named Lt. Kinderman, sits all alone in an empty church.

An elderly priest has been murdered while hearing confessions, and Lt. Kinderman is trying to piece together the clues.

After a while, he lifts his eyes, slowly, to a large crucifix above the altar.

As he gazes at the face of Jesus, his own face softens,
and a quiet wonder comes to his eyes. He begins to speak to Jesus, saying:

“Who are you? God’s Son?  No, you know I don’t believe that.
I just asked to be polite. . . .I don’t know who you are,
but you are Someone. . . .

“Do you know how I know? From what you said.
When I read, ‘Love your enemy,’ I tingle. . . . No one on earth
could ever say what you said. No one could even make it up.
Who could imagine it? The words knock you down. . . .
Who are you, and what do you want from us?”

Who are you and what do you want from us?”
This is the most important question anyone can ask about Jesus.

Today’s Gospel answers that question in a most dramatic way. It describes Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray. Luke 9:28

As they pray, Jesus is suddenly transfigured before their eyes.
The three disciples see Jesus in a way they have never seen him before.

They see his divinity blaze forth from him. Then a cloud appears, and from it a voice says, “This is my own dear
Son—listen to him!” Mark 9:7

It is an awesome moment. The three disciples would never forget it. Years later, Peter wrote in a letter:

With our own eyes we saw his greatness.
We were there . . .
when the voice came to him. . . .
We ourselves heard this voice . . .
when we were with him on the holy mountain. 2 Peter 1:16–18

Let us now do a fast-forward to a second awesome moment.
It also takes place on a mountain: the Mount of Olives.

Significantly, the same three disciples, Peter, James, and John, are with Jesus. This time the event is not a moment of ecstasy, but a moment of agony. It happened this way.

After the Last Supper, Jesus went with his disciples to Gethsemane, located on the lower level of the Mount of Olives.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
He took Peter, James, and John with him.

Distress and anguish came over him, and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me.
Stay here and keep watch.”

He went a little farther on, threw himself on the ground
and prayed. . . . “Father, my Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:32–36

In this moment of agony the three disciples see Jesus, again,
in a way they had never seen him before.

Earlier on Mount Tabor, they saw him in a moment of ecstacy. Then his divinity blazed forth from him.

Now on the Mount of Olives they see him in a moment of agony. This time his humanity shows through him in a way they had never seen before.

That brings us back to the question Lt. Kinderman asked as he gazed at the image of Jesus on the cross,
“Who are you, and what do you want from us?”
Jesus’ ecstasy and his agony answer Lt. Kinderman’s question in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Jesus is both divine and human. He is the Son of the eternal Father, come into our world to save us and show us in the most unimaginable way that he loves us. Saint John writes:

“God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And that brings us to the second half of Lt. Kinderman’s question.

What does Jesus want from us?

He wants us to believe. And those who do will
“not die but have eternal life.”

And so today’s Gospel helps us answer the most important question we will ever have to answer: Who is Jesus, and what does he want from us?

Saint Paul answers the question “Who is Jesus, and what does he want from us” this way in his Letter to the Philippians. He writes:

Christ Jesus . . .always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.

Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
and took the nature of a servant.
He became a human being and appeared in human likeness.

He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death—his death on the cross.

For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.

And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father. . . .

[So, then, dear friends]
you must shine among [the people of this world] . . . like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life. Philippians 2:6–12, 15–16

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