Second Sunday of Lent
‘To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.’ [William Blake]
Today’s gospel story invites us to look again and see things in a new way - to see Jesus, ourselves and sisters and brothers as God’s beloved and to see Creation as God’s gift. Lent is our opportunity to liberate the imagination. We are offered the gift of renewed sight. We can see God within ourselves, each other and in Creation and recognise their sacredness and dignity.
The ability to see differently makes acting differently possible. We face the choice to be constructive and not destructive; to be transfiguring and not disfiguring. To see differently makes living in peace in our diversity possible. It means letting go of prejudice and racism; letting of homophobia; letting go of greed, bigotry, power and the need to control and dominate; rejecting violence in word and action; and, overcoming the fear that paralyses. We can do this because we have been to the ‘mountain’ and return knowing that God is in all things and that all is sacred. Pope Francis in Laudato si’, Fratelli tutti, and Querida Amazonia reminds us that we are made for each other with God as our Companion. We invited to identify with a universal kinship, to be on the side of God and not those in power.
Today’s Gospel does not just retell what happened to Jesus but shows us what is involved and demanded when we recognise that Jesus is the Christ. As Jesus gradually opened the eyes of the blind man at Bethsaida, he open us up to the nature and implications of who he is. On the mountain, Jesus did not identify with royalty or ritual. He did not appear with David the king, or Aaron the priest. Jesus identified with Moses and Elijah who were pr.ophets and liberators of the people
With the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine nears, the hostility escalates with more weapons from around the world. There is no direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. More weapons means more dead people. With the recent second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar the killing continues with no exit in sight. People like Pope Francis is ridiculed and criticised for trying to keep the space for dialogue and move away from disfiguration of war towards a transfiguration of peace. Media, politicians and many church leaders treat the trafficking in military weapons and engaging in the rhetoric of hatred and vilification as something normal. So more young men, women die, and more people starve around the world. Pax Christi International has recently published a statement (Pope Francis, Nonviolence and the Fullness of Pacem in Terris) for its Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. It comes 60 years after Pope John XXlll’s landmark document Pacem in Terris. In December 2022, Catholic Church leaders and local activists from 30 countries reflected on Pope Francis’ relentless work for nonviolent change in the face of acute violence and injustice and explore new ways in advancing the spirituality, way of life, strategies and the universal ethic of nonviolence in the Church and the world. It seems that the overall necessity is to have more careful listening and creative dialogue at all levels of society – in our personal and family relationships through how countries deal with complex and conflicted issues. It begins by agreeing to meet and listen carefully without interruption. Choosing to do harm with more weapons leads to greater suffering and makes peace more difficult.
The 2019 Amazon Synod in Rome was a Transfiguration. It began by listening to the voices of the people most impacted by many kinds of intergenerational injustice: displacement, murder, environmental destruction, mining companies, plantations, farming. Transfiguration happened for participants because they were listened to and a message of hope to the peoples of the Amazon and to all First Nations people. The message was: ‘you matter’ to God and to us. They are God’s beloved. God is their companion. God is in solidarity with them in their suffering. God will not leave them there. When we look to Jesus, we see him as the embodiment of God – a God of justice and calls upon all people to cooperate in truth, justice, love and freedom. The recent journey to the peripheries by Pope Francis, Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury), and Iain Greenshields (Moderator of the Church of Scotland), against advice, was a message to the South Sudanese people and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that they matter; that their pain and suffering needed to be spotlighted; and not forgotten by the priority given events in Europe. If our spiritual journey is to have any meaning, we have to wade into the throngs of hurting people listening to them and listening to Jesus, and expose the underlying causes of all the wounding in this world and healing what we touch. So often saving institutions, take a higher priority than saving people. In the Jesus’ story, the Cross is the place where the suffering and suffering grief of the world is connected. God’s heart was broken open to allow the pain and suffering enter in and for healing to take place. Do we dare sit with the suffering in our midst and allow our eyes to go beyond the confines of our fences and walls? In each situation, we need to see the face of the poor and their reality and strive for a ‘transfiguration’ of unjust economic and social structures.
In the first reading, Abram left his country with a promise of being a father of a new nation. Today, refugees from Syria are moving in all directions with little promise. They leave because bombs indiscriminately fall upon their homes; loved ones die in the rubble of buildings, because there is little food and medical assistance. And the recent earthquakes have contributed to their seemingly hopeless plight. They continue to sacrifice for the sake of political ideologies.
Pope Francis reminds us that when people suffer, God is in their midst. God is with us in the rubble of our lives. God is present in the debris after the bombing. God is present where people have to move. God is present when children die for no reason. However, God is not content to leave anyone there because Love cannot rest in these circumstances. The call of the kin-dom of God is to a ‘just peace’. It is a call to rebuild in the midst of what is lost. To bring peace where there is violence, conflict and war. To bring justice where there is oppression.
As we remember the Jesus’ suffering and the suffering of our sisters and brothers, we also remember suffering of creation, and all that is within it. Do we dare sit with the suffering or do we turn away? As we allow ourselves to sit with whoever is suffering, let us look for the presence of the Sacred. It is holy ground. It is connected with the earthy, the vulnerable and the suffering. We see in Jesus, the embodiment of a God who refuses to hover above the earth in some glorified form but climbs back down the mountain and walks straight toward crucifixion - one foot after another.
We should not avert our eyes and avoid living with love and compassion in a broken world. It does mean that there is the possibility for change and transformation in the most ordinary of places. It means that love, kindness, and solidarity come to us in ordinary bread, in a word, in water, in a stranger, in a gentle breeze, in the hands and feet of another. If anything, the message of today’s gospel is that God’s presence transforms our world, and us, from within. God tells us to listen to Jesus. Pope Francis is clearly one who listens to Jesus and acts. We need to have personal contact with people who are poor, find ways to reach out to them, the suffering, the refugee and the stranger. These are God’s beloved. Transfiguration is a communal process, not a personal possession. Once the light has shone into our hearts, we can act as a transfigured people, and people around us need us to do that. The disciples re-enter the world that Jesus engages with. They, like us when we really see, can no longer see the world as before. They cannot leave behind what they witnessed on the mountain and that now infuses what, how, they see here, as they level on level ground. What we see cannot really be unseen unless we do violence to ourselves. How will we allow that seeing alter or transfigure us where we enter the world again and again in the company of Jesus who travels with us in every moment?
Most glorious and inclusive God,
Help us to see your transfiguring powers
when we encounter you in inclusive communities.
Help us to feel your transfiguring powers
as you call our ancestors to attest to your hopes for us and our communities.
Help us to experience your transfiguring powers
as we encounter Jesus resisting oppressive powers in his day and ours.
Help us to encounter you transfigured before us
as we join you in bold ministries of inclusion, intimacy, and justice.
Transfigure our world.