Reflection on the Second Sunday of Lent
Last Sunday we followed Jesus into the desert. Jesus was at the beginning of this work he sensed himself called to do. We were reading from the fourth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, toward the beginning of Jesus’ public life. Jesus had just been baptized by John and had heard the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” That experience must have strengthened Jesus in his mission. But he knew the Hebrew Scriptures. He knew what happened to prophets who spoke up for the poor. Yet he wanted the people to know what he knew: that each of them is beloved of God.
Today, only a week later, the Lenten liturgy moves us ahead to the 17th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus has been working among the people, teaching them, healing the sick, walking with them. He has become aware of opposition from the religious authorities of the day. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place,” Jesus says. Besides resistance from the authorities, the ordinary people just don’t get it. They were more interested in miracles and bread than in faith. Jesus became more and more aware of what was ahead of him if he continued teaching and acting as he had been. He realized now how dangerous it is to teach about a God who forgives those who have broken the law. He knows the danger of eating with society’s outcasts or healing the daughter of a woman who was not even part of the Jewish people but an outsider.
In today’s Gospel Matthew tells us that Jesus took three of his disciples and led them up a high mountain, far from the people and the busy noise, to converse with this one whom he called Father.
Jesus must have wondered if he himself understood. Maybe he had gotten it wrong about this God he believed in and spoke of. Jesus must have begged for strength and understanding for himself and for his disciples.
As Matthew tells the story, Jesus’ oneness with God transformed even his bodily appearance. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. Certainly, a glimpse of Resurrection is central in this story. Again, there is the voice: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” This poor, praying, uncertain Jesus is confirmed again as God’s Beloved.
He goes back down the mountain, back to his work of healing and teaching and doing what God would do. Strengthened, surely, but conscious that suffering lies ahead. He is still displeasing to the powers that be. Yet he continues on the path given to him. And we must continue on the path given to us.
We enter into Eucharist, asking to be fed and strengthened for what lies ahead in these Lenten days and beyond.