13 March 2022 at Saint William and Saint Peter Churches in Naples, FL
Genesis 15, 5-12, 17, 18 + Psalm 27 + Philippians 3, 17-4, 1 + Luke 9, 28-36
I like to imagine that when Abraham told Sarah, his wife, about the vision he had that l day, she looked at him, shook her head and said: “You’re seeing things. You smell like dead animals. Wash up and come in for supper.” I can also just as easily imagine that when Peter, James, and John rejoined the other apostles telling them what they had seen, one them, probably Thomas said: “You guys are seeing things.”
Seeing things is part of what this Gospel scene is all about. Matthew and Mark tell of the same event, but they concentrate on how it affected Peter, James, and John. Luke’s presentation is directed more to the effect this experience had on Jesus. In this chapter, just verses before, Peter has made his declaration that he believes Jesus to be the Messiah. With that, Jesus begins to clarify what kind of Messiah he would be as he tells them that the “Son of Man” will suffer, be rejected, killed, and raised on the third day. Only Luke’s Gospel tells us why Jesus went up that mountain. It was to pray, he says.
All the major events in the life of Jesus are preceded in Luke’s Gospel by a period of prayer: his baptism, the choice of the Twelve, the mission of the 72 disciples, his prayer in Gethsemane and even at the moment of his death. All the “breakthroughs” in the whole history of salvation occur while people are at prayer. The major figures of the Gospel, Mary, Zechariah, Anna, Simeon, the Apostles at Emmaus, the Apostles in an upper room on Pentecost are all people of prayer. So, we are left to wonder about ourselves and how we move forward in life, make decisions, and what kind of things we see.
At this point in the narrative of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is in Galilee where things are going rather well. Crowds are coming around all the time. They follow him everywhere with great enthusiasm. The carping Pharisees are nowhere to seen. No scribes and picky lawyers are trying to trap him. It’s nice there in Galilee, but he is faced with a decision: stay there or take up his mission and move on to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a place that kills prophets. It’s not all about him either. He knows that his closest and loyal friends may well suffer more than just disappointment in Jerusalem, they may well suffer the same fate he will likely have. Faced with that decision, he goes up the mountain to pray.
All of us are constantly confronted with choices and decisions we cannot avoid. We have to make choices some of them big and some not so big. We sit in front of computer screen and we have to choose whether or not to click on that site that in the end just makes us more lonely. The mail comes and there is one more appeal from a charity. We have to choose whether to toss it or be just a little more generous. A doctor tells a couple that the child they have been waiting for has something wrong, and it’s time for a choice, the easy way or the right way?
What we learn from Jesus today is that when it’s time for a choice the easy way may not be the best way according to God’s will. What we learn from Jesus today is that when it is time for choices big and small, prayer is the way to move forward.
For Jesus that day, mindful that going on to Jerusalem was going mean a lot of suffering and even his death, thoughts of Moses and Elijah came to him with an assurance that passing over, an exodus, made with trust in God would ultimately set him free and lead to the victory of his mission. These three apostles are the same three that will be invited to the Garden of Olives when the suffering begins. By sharing this time of prayer with them, Jesus prepares them for what it is they see that night in Jerusalem.
This then is the lesson of the Second Sunday of Lent as it seeks to bring about our conversion: We must change our ways and make choices. Often not making a choice becomes one and it is usually the wrong one. Disciples of Jesus can never think that fidelity, commitment, and perseverance will be possible without a great struggle. Love is never possible without suffering and sacrifice, and that is a choice otherwise you’re just a victim.
Moving into the second week of Lent, we probably ought to start seeing things, not things that are not there, but things that actually can be if we make the choice to go all the way even to Jerusalem with Jesus Christ. What we will soon see there is an empty tomb. Some may think we are just seeing things, but the eyes faith know it to be real and true.