Transfigured by the Love of God
Father Hanly’s homily for 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A, was delivered following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011.
Readings for Second Sunday of Lent, Year A
- First Reading: Genesis 12:1-4
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
- Second Reading: Second Timothy 1:8-10
- Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
(Tiny bit at beginning missing, but this was just after the earthquake that devastated Japan in 2011, so Father Hanly started his homily by saying he was going to read a letter from Father Kwan.)
… Father Kwan, our parish priest here at St Margaret’s Church in Happy Valley. It is to the people of Japan on the tragic earthquake in that country. And, as you may know, a group of the Japanese Christian community has been coming to this church each Sunday for many years. And Father Gudalefsky, when their Mass comes together, will read this special announcement to the Japanese people:
“On behalf of our pastoral team, priests, deacon and sisters, we wish to express our deepest empathy to all our Japanese brothers and sisters who suffer tremendously during this time, especially you, our brothers and sisters in the Lord who have made St Margaret’s parish your very own. We wish to offer our most fervent prayers to our good Lord and beg Him to reach out His mighty hand to save and heal your most beautiful country, and aid and protect all its people, who are the bravest we have ever met. If we can be of help to you in any way, please consider us as members of your own family.
Father John Kwan,
Parish Priest, St Margaret’s Parish.”
Today’s gospel is very appropriate to what Father Kwan is asking God to help the people of our own parish. It’s very appropriate that it should come upon the day that we read this gospel of the Transfiguration.
Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, is on his way to Jerusalem, and the journey will end in his arrest, in his condemnation, in his mockery. He will be mocked. He will be whipped. He will be reduced to the level that the Bible itself says, “Cursed be the man who hangs upon a tree.” And he will hang upon a tree and he will die.
And Jesus knows, he knows that this will be too much for his own disciples to bear. Those who very soon will shout on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna to the Highest” and welcome the Messiah, will all scatter and they will leave him to himself, alone.
He knows what it is like to be at the edges of despair, to be just a very short distance from feeling that he has been abandoned and alone. And he knows this great disappointment will fill the hearts of his disciples who will scatter in every direction when he’s arrested in the garden.
Jesus takes three of his most trusted disciples, Peter, James and his brother, John, up a high mountain. And we know everything important in the gospels, and in the Bible, happens on a high mountain.
He goes up the mountain and, suddenly, something changes. The disciples see that two people have suddenly appeared.
And one, of course, is Moses, who went up the high mountain to make a bargain with God, that there would be a covenant of love that would last forever between God and His people, the children of Israel.
And the other was Elijah the prophet who, as Scripture says, was taken up in a fiery chariot and never seen again. And it was said that one day, when the Chosen One, the Messiah himself, comes, as God has promised to send him, comes into this world to be our Saviour, at that time Elijah will come first.
And then, suddenly, the whole scene changes and Jesus’ face shines like the sun and his garments are as white as snow.
And there, Peter gets carried away and he doesn’t know what he’s babbling, because he’s in a half trance like the other two. And he says first, “Jesus, it is good for us to be here, Master. Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
And then, suddenly, thunder rolls and a cloud comes over, a cloud that is the sign and symbol of the cloud that led them all through the desert for forty years until they found the Promised Land.
And the voice of God comes from the cloud and the voice says to the disciples, who now are almost beside themselves, says those immortal words, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
And then, as quick as it came, it all disappears, and when the disciples raise their heads, they see only Jesus.
And Jesus looks at them and he says, “Tell this vision to no one until I have been raised from the dead.” And it’s all over.
Why is this such a special gospel to read on this very special day when we pay tribute to a people who seem to be being tested beyond human ability to deal with it?
The things that they most trusted, the things that they felt pride and glory in, were destroyed before them, and great fear swept the land, because it is not over and they are asked to sit, perhaps, in solemn silence for help to come.
And, of course, this is the way the apostles were when Jesus was arrested and taken from them.
And later when they saw him hanging on the cross, it seemed the end of everything, and yet it was the beginning of something new. It was the beginning of Jesus announcing from the cross, all is forgiven: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
This was about them and all the people that would follow that would refuse to hear and refuse to listen.
And then, of course, on the third day, he rises from the dead.
Whenever we’re in trouble, whenever it seems that our little world is being threatened, when it seems like the rattle of sabres is going to lead us to another destructive war or, even worse, that the very earth from under us creaks and quakes in seeming protest to the world that we have created, and whenever we feel that, especially these days, that we can only live day by day, because, in a way, the future is dark and the future is treacherous and the future is not even to be guessed at but only hoped that it will be better than the present, these are the times when we seek Jesus and we think of Jesus, who gave his own disciples his vision before he suffered these things, that they might restore their faith in who he was and what he came to be.
And later, he will say to them, after his rising he will say, “Do not be afraid. I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the whole world.”
And then, suddenly, the disciples rise up and they are filled with a new confidence.
The pains will come and the disasters will happen, but their faith will be restored because they know that God does not abandon His children, He does not leave them orphans, but He is with them, even in the worst of times, as well as the best of times.
And during the worst of times, they can take new courage and they can be fed by the Resurrection, because the disciples were given an idea of the transfiguration of God, not to tell us that someday this was going to happen to us or that someday when we pass on to the next world that then we will be transfigured into a new world, Jesus was saying to us, “Here and now, what you have seen me as, in that brief moment of ecstatic understanding, you already are, you already are transfigured by the love of God.
“You already are transfigured by the fact that nothing in this life can harm you. It can touch you, it can make you sometimes frightened, but it cannot harm you, because you have been destined for eternal life and that life has already begun in you.”
And that is why Jesus says, “Learn to love. Love your neighbour as yourself, for every time you love with your whole heart, you will understand that you are immortal already. And you need not wait until the time that the angels come to carry you into Abraham’s bosom, because you have become already what Jesus wants you to know you already are.
This is what it means to have your faith in him. This is what it means when we say, “They have seen his glory.”
The expression “They have seen his glory” does not mean they have seen the shining face, the transfigured body. When they say about Jesus, “They have seen his glory,” they mean they have seen what he really is. It has been the revelation of the greatness of human beings.
When we say glory to God, we say that with a full heart, saying praise and glory be yours. But when we say, “We have seen his glory,” it means we have seen what he really is behind the little places he hides, the depth and the loveliness and the importance of what it means to be a human being.
And so, today, we say to our brothers and sisters, the people of Japan, we say to them, “We have seen your worth and God takes you to Himself.”