Holy Spirit

ACTA 

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

 

Second Sunday of Lent Year C

Year of Luke                  Downlaod >>> Second Sunday of Lent Yr C

READINGS

 

A reading from the book of Genesis               15:5-12. 17-18

 

Responsorial Psalm                Psalm 27:1. 7-9. 13-14. R/. v.1

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians   

3:17 - 4:1

      

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke    9:28-36

 

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Pity the preacher. It is difficult these days to see how many heads of grey hairs there are before him as he proclaims the word of God.  In the Bible someone prays,

Unto old age and grey hairs

   Preserve me , O God.          

 Psalm 71:18

Yet I am certain that those of us who have grey hairs, disguised or not, remember that to be a Catholic one had to obey a lorry load of commandments. Not just the Ten Commandments, nor the Seven Commandments of the Church.  But many more made their way into every aspect of our lives.  We used to be famous, not for our holiness, but as the people who ate fish on Fridays.

 

   But there is only one commandment, the commandment of which all others depend. It is in our Gospel reading today.  It is this:

Listen to him!

This is the greatest commandment and it comes from the wisdom of our Jewish brothers and sisters who gave us our Bible.  Moses gathered all the people around him on the banks of the Jordan before they crossed into the land flowing with milk and honey.  He wanted to impress on them all that he had heard from God on the mountain. This is how he begins his momentous words:

   Shema, Isra’el!

                                            Listen, Isra’el!

                                                              Deuteronomy 6:4

Why must those people of long ago listen to Moses? Why must those who come after them listen? They must listen because what he is about to reveal is “all that the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you” so that “you and your children, and your children’s children may reverence the Lord your God so that you may endure” (Deuteronomy 5:33, Jewish Study Bible translation).  He urges them to listen attentively to the words of God.  The future belongs to those who listen.  To listen is to endure.

   That is why Shema, Isra’el, Listen, Isra’el, begins the first prayer in the synagogue everyday. It is enshrined in the liturgy of the Feast of Passover. It is recited on one’s deathbed, and it was recited by millions of Jews as they were led to gas chambers.

Luke’s readers and hearers did not hear,

Shema, Isra’el.

They heard,

Listen to him!

Who then is this man who has climbed the mountain to pray?  The voice of God identifies him:

This is my Son, My Chosen One

and God issues the ancient commandment to a new people:

Listen to him!

WHY?

A reading from the book of Genesis               15:5-12. 17-18

        [The Lord] brought Abram outside [his tent] and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to    number them”. Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring        be”.  And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as         righteousness.

         And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out       from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess         it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a        young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the    birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the       carcasses, Abram drove them away.

 

        As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And        behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. When the   sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot         and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the   Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great         river, the river Euphrates.

The word of the Lord.

Abram is Abraham

You will have noticed that changing names in the Bible is a

sign of a new calling.  Simon had his name changed to Peter, though, in the event, he didn’t turn out to be much of a rock, at least not in the estimation of St Paul and St Mark.  Paul himself had a name change, from Saul, meaning “loaned” to Paul, meaning “little”, which may not have been of any great significance.  Especially important, however, was the changing of Jacob’s name to Isra’el, from “supplanted” to “One who wrestled with God” (Genesis 25:19-34 and 32:22-32).

   Abram was called because he was to be the beginning of God’s Plan B.  Plan A, known to us as the Adam and Eve story, did not come to much.  Cain killed Abel and, indeed, violence spread throughout the earth:

        Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth   was filled with violence.      

Genesis 6:11 [RSV]

 

  Even the Flood did not improve matters.  So there had to be a Plan B and the Plan B was Abram.  He was called to be the father of a great nation, and to be a blessing for all humanity:

        Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country    and your kindred and your father's house to the land    that I        will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I    will bless you and make your name great,     so that you will be a   blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who    dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the      earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had    told him.

Genesis 12:1-3      

It takes five more chapters before Abram has a name change to Abraham and God explains:


        No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your   name       shall be Abraham, for I have made you a father   of a multitude of nations.

Genesis 17:5

The name Abram means “great father” and in the Bible the change to Abraham signifies that he is to be “the father of a multitude of nations”.  God’s change of the name[1] is meant to signify that Abraham is the beginning of a new enterprise.  The blessing defaced by Adam’s disobedience is to be restored to the nations of the world.  Plan B is not destined to fail. In Luke’s genealogy of Jesus the son of Abraham is the Son of God (see (Luke 3:23-38).

 

Responsorial Psalm                Psalm 27:1. 7-9. 13-14. R/. v.1

R/.   The Lord is my light and my salvation.

 

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

 whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life;

                        of whom shall I be afraid?                     R/.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;

be gracious to me and answer me!

 You have said, “Seek my face.”

My heart says to you,

                          “Your face, Lord, do I seek”.               R/.

 

“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

 Hide not your face from me.

Turn not your servant away in anger,

                      You who have been my help.                    R/.

 

I believe that I shall look

upon the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living!

 Wait for the Lord;

 be strong, and let your heart take courage;

wait for the Lord.

 

R/.   The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Psalm 27 is a prayer of faith.  It is a declaration of utter trust in the Lord “my light and my salvation”.  The psalm is recited in the synagogue services in late summer in anticipation of the New Year and Yom Kippur, the time of the great prayer of repentance and pardon.  It is a psalm that cries out for nearness to God “the stronghold of my life”. 

   The psalm is an appeal to live in God’s presence.  In the full text of the prayer the heart of the matter is expressed:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,

that will I seek after:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord

and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

The Gospel teaches that we find the Presence of the Lord in the man of prayer: Jesus of Nazareth.  To him we must turn to hear the voice of God.

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians   

3:17- 4:1

        Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on   those who walk according to the example you have in us. For     many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is     destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their      shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is   in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus       Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious       body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to         himself.

                Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long      for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.                                            

                                                        The word of the Lord.

   Paul did not lack confidence.  He declared to the little house-church in Philippi that they should take him as their model.  But this is not arrogance. Paul was confident that he had discovered and was living the example that Jesus set for the world. The self-emptying of Jesus so gloriously proclaimed in the hymn quoted by Paul must, he maintained, be the model for all:

        Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count      equality with God a thing to be grasped,        but emptied himself,         by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by   becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a    cross

Philippians 2:5-8

Since his Damascus Road experience Paul of Tarsus had lived his life in imitation of the emptying that marked the life of Jesus “even to death on a cross”.

  Paul had encountered many people whose “minds were set on earthly things” and not on the things of heaven.  That is to say, he well knew that many people immersed themselves in the ways of the world and not in the ways that God advised. Humanity’s destiny, in Saint Paul’s understanding, would be realized in God’s determination to bring humanity to the same glorious destiny as Jesus.  Again, we can hear an echo of the voice that “came out of the cloud”: Listen to him!

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke    9:28-36 

        Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him

        Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to       pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was      altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold,         two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who       appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who    were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became   fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to       Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three        tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”— not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying,    “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the   voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent        and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.                                       

 The Gospel of the Lord.

The Transfiguration Story is told in three of our four Gospels.  Mark’s is the first account (9:2-80), followed by Matthew (17:1-8), and then Luke (9:28-36).  Although the bones of the episode are much the same in all three Gospels, there are sufficient details in each to highlight the particular emphasis that each gives.  They are at once the same yet very different.  But for each of the three the command that came out of the cloud is the same:

Listen to him!

This, as we have seen, is a command.  It is not a word of advice or a request.  It is an order from heaven.  Each of the gospel-makers, not withstanding their differences, makes this command the climax of the story.

   The reason for this is that each writer was well aware that the command was an echo.  It was a deliberate echo of the words spoken by God to Moses as God revealed all that was demanded of the people of Israel if they were to be God’s people.

Shema, Isra’el

Listen, Israel.

   How it is that three fishermen, Peter, James, and John,   whose ancestors in ancient times had been commanded by God to listen to God’s words, were now told by God to listen to Jesus?

   A Matter of Identity

Throughout his Gospel Luke grapples with the identity of Jesus.  Who is this man? is the question on his every page.   If we return to the story of the infant in the manger we can amass a host of titles and designations showered on Jesus in order to clarify who he is.  To take but one sentence from the very beginning of Luke’s story:

      He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most     High.    And the Lord God will give to him the throne of    his father    David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Luke 1:32-33

What is the young girl in Nazareth to make of these words of Gabriel?   If Mary is to be his mother, who will call this child “the Son of the Most High”?  How can David be his father and how will this child inherit David’s throne?  And, unlike every other kingdom in the history of the world, what will happen to make his kingdom an endless one?

Luke’s readers and hearers will have heard all that is told in Luke’s story before Jesus went up the mountain to pray.  They will have known too all that follows “when they had come down from the mountain”. They will have known well the story of the death of this man Jesus and the cries that rent the air as he was breathing his last.  Listen to the voices of derision:

                               He saved others!

                               Let him save himself!

                               If you are the Christ of God!

                               If you are God’s chosen One!

                               If you are the King of the Jews!

And the hearts of these same Christians, as they listened to Luke’s story, will have burned within them for they have recognized and put their faith in the risen Lord as they come together for the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-35).

  The Transfiguration of Jesus comes in the middle of the story, between the birth in Bethlehem and the resurrection in Jerusalem.  The story is strategically placed for it comes before this sentence:

      When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set   his face      to go to Jerusalem …

Luke 9:51  

The Transfiguration is told just before Luke’s readers and hearers set out with Jesus on the way to the Holy City where the most unholy things will happen.  These listeners to Luke will indeed have to listen if they are to walk the way. 

The Mountain

In the Bible Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai, as it is usually called, is where Moses met with God.  It is the mountain, the mountain of God.  God first spoke to Moses on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:1-6) and enlisted him to go on an extraordinary meeting with the Pharaoh of Egypt.  When Moses led the slaves out of Egypt he brought them to Mount Sinai to hear the word of the Lord.  As the people made their way through the desert toward the mountain “behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud” (Exodus 16:10).  As they came to the mountain “there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain” (Exodus 19:16) and when he met with God “the glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days” (Exodus 24:16).  Thus it is no surprise that when the Gospel writers mention a mountain, almost always they call it “the mountain”, to remind their readers of all the meetings with God that took place on Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.  In Matthew and Luke Jesus usually prayers when he goes up on the mountain to pray:

      And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.                        Matthew 14:23

To pray …

 

Luke’s Gospel begins with Zechariah at prayer in the Temple and it ends with disciples “continually in the Temple blessing God”.  In Luke’s first pages we have angels glorifying God, Mary praying, Zechariah praying, and Simeon praying, and each one praying prayers that have enriched the Church’s prayers for two thousand years.  As it was in the beginning of Luke’s story, so it is at the end, for the ending of the life of Jesus is shrouded in prayer.  The Last Supper is full of blessings and thanksgivings.  When Jesus leads his disciples to the Mount of Olives his first word to them is to warn them to pray.  He himself went a stone’s throw away from them and knelt in prayer.  While he prayed his disciples slept.

   Between the beginning and end of the story the readers and listeners of Luke’s Gospel are swaddled in prayer.  From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus was a man who prayed:

      Now when all the people were baptized, and when    Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened,      and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a       dove; and a voice came      from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”                                 Luke 3:21-22

Before Jesus selected a special Twelve from among his followers, “he went out on to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (6:12). When he asked his disciples what the crowd thought of him, his question came in a context of prayer:

      Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the   disciples     were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say,      Elijah, and others, that one       of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them,       “But who do you say that I am?” And    Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”                                                                                                       Luke 9:18-20

Luke often invites his readers to hear the prayer of Jesus:

      In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I       thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have   hidden these things from the wise and understanding and       revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my   Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father,    or       who the      Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the     Son      chooses to reveal him.”

Luke 10:21-22

Indeed, while listening to Jesus at prayer, his disciples asked him to teach them to pray and he gave them the Lord’s Prayer we are not familiar with:

      When you pray, say:

                                       “Father, hallowed be your name.

                                            Your kingdom come.

                                     Give us each day our daily bread,

                                             and forgive us our sins,

                                     for we ourselves forgive everyone

                                            who is indebted to us.

                                     And lead us not into temptation.”

Luke 11:2-4

Luke’s account of the death of Jesus is unlike the accounts in the other Gospels.  To be sure, there is much that is recorded in all four Gospels.  But Luke fills his crucifixion story with the prayers of Jesus, so well known to Christians:

      And when they came to the place that is called The      Skull, there       they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know    not what they do.”

Luke 23:33

Indeed, even on the cross Jesus answers the prayer of a harden criminal:

      And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into   your     kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to

       you, today you will be with me in Paradise”.              Luke 23:42

His last words were a prayer:

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

Luke 23:46

Jesus did not pray to give his followers a good example.  He prayed because he needed to pray.  He took Peter, James, and John up the mountain because that was where he prayed.  The mountain was where the Son talked to his Father.  And it was in the context of his praying that he was changed:

      And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered,    and his clothing became dazzling white.

 

It is important to realize that it was while he was praying that the transformation took place.  That is what prayer does.

Moses and Elijah

Of all the characters who people the pages of the Jewish Scriptures, why are these two on the mountain?  Suggestions there are aplenty.  The most common one is that Moses was the one to whom God entrusted the two tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments and to whom God entrusted all the laws.  Elijah was the great prophet who, in very dark days, championed God, defeated the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel, bested Jezebel, and to whom God spoke on the mountain in that “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

      That may explain the appearance of these great ones in Mark’s Gospel.  But there are details only found in Luke’s account that point in another direction:

              And behold! Two men were talking with him, Moses and       Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his     departure,        which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.                                                                                                                               Luke 9:30

Note Luke’s “Behold”.  He is emphasising the details of his introduction of Moses and Elijah.  He adds that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, not “with them”, as in Mark’s account (9:2-8).  Luke then adds peculiar details, not found in Mark or Matthew.  Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory” and “they spoke of his departure”.

  The detail “appeared in glory” means that Moses and Elijah appeared in the glory God bestowed on them when they had departed this life.  So they came to Jesus in the glorious state of being with God.  They speak with Jesus about his “departure”.  The Greek word Luke uses is exodus, the word that is used of the departure of the Hebrew slaves from their bondage in Egypt.  The slaves were led by God in a cloud by day and fire by night:

      And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to      lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.                                                                                                               Exodus 13:21-22    

Luke explains what he means by exodus.  It is the departure Jesus “was about to accomplish at Jerusalem”. It is his death and departure from this life with all the horrors that bring about that departure: betrayal and denial by disciples, bitter condemnation by those Temple priests and officials responsible for the faith of the people, and sentenced by the coercive, exploitative, imperial power of Rome.  But Moses and Elijah speak from glory, from their being with God, and in anticipation they strengthen the resolve of Jesus who, in the moment of his departure from this life, will be able to pray:

 

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

Luke 23:46

Moses and Elijah, two men who, in this life, spoke intimately with God, come from glory to give support to the resolve of Jesus to give his life back to his Father in whatever way it is demanded of him:

      Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.      Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.

Luke 22:42

The transformation of Jesus on the mountain occurs, in Luke’s literal expression, “in his praying”.  That is a deep lesson for those who follow the way of the Lord.  The glory of Moses and Elijah and the subject of their conversation with Jesus (his exodus) link what happened on the mountain with all that happened at the place called the Skull (Luke 23:33).

  

Listen to him

 

Peter and those who were with him “were heavy with sleep”.  They will be found sleeping on another mountain.  When they became fully awake, they saw his glory, the transformation that momentarily took him to the realm of Moses and Elijah.  Peter’s mistaken request is to make three tents, presumably to stay or at least prolong their time on the mountain.  It is at that precise moment of misunderstanding that “a cloud came and overshadowed them”, that very cloud that signaled the guiding hand of God as Moses and the people crossed the desert.  The three disciples “were afraid as they entered the cloud”.  They “feared” as so often in the Bible people feared before the divine Presence.  And then the voice came out of the cloud with a fact and a command:

                  Fact:   This is my beloved Son, my Chosen One.

        Command:   Listen to him!

The ancient command to listen to all that God revealed to Moses is transformed.  The coming of the Son, God’s Chosen One, has brought all listening to perfection.  Listening has come to its ultimate disclosure:  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.   

   That is what Luke’s story teaches.  Through Jesus, God’s Son and Chosen One transforms the world.  It warns that there will be crucifixion.  It promises that there will be

glory. [2]

 

 And today?

What does the glory of the transformation on the mountain of God say today to a Church beset by the brutality of its processes?   To Christians who profess to walk the way with Jesus the transformation required is writ in his person, in his love, in his compassion, and in his understanding of our weaknesses.  To listen to him is to join in the godly project of transforming the world.  To do that is to enter into its pain, to carry its sins to mercy and forgiveness, and to enfold it in God’s steadfast love. That cannot be done by our Church, for glory cannot be reached, unless a commandment is heard:

Listen to him!

Joseph O’Hanlon

 

 

 

 

 

[1] In fact Abram and Abraham are just to forms of the same name.

[2] Luke, unlike Mark, does not use the word “transfigured”.  Mark wrote:  Jesus “was transfigured before them”.  Luke is more restrained.

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