To mountaintop and back

By: By Barbara Roedel

Second Sunday of Lent, March 8

Genesis 22:1-2,9a,10-13,15-18; Psalm 116:10,15,16-17,18-19; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10

Mountaintop experiences don’t come all that often and yet we’ve all had some experience of them. I’ve heard Christians talk of having mountaintop experiences while on a retreat or a mission, while reading sacred Scripture or serving the poor. Many times it is a high point in their spiritual journey leaving a profound, lasting effect on them.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus leads Peter, James and John to a mountaintop experience. After struggling to reach the summit, the disciples witness Jesus’ transfiguration. They are awestruck as they see Jesus appearing in dazzling light.

Next Elijah and Moses appear and talk with Jesus. The whole Jewish tradition is represented in this meeting — Moses represents the law, Elijah the prophets, and Jesus the new covenant. Imagine that conversation!

The disciples are terrified, but Peter is grateful and recognizes how good it is to have this experience. He misses the point, however. Peter wants to stay there and construct a memorial. God, in a voice out of a cloud, identifies Jesus as his beloved Son and instructs the disciples to “listen to him.”

The Transfiguration is the apex of Jesus’ public life. The summit experience gives the disciples a glimpse of Jesus’ true identity. No longer is Jesus the carpenter from Galilee or an itinerant preacher, but God’s beloved Son. Suddenly Elijah and Moses are gone and Jesus walks down the mountain with the disciples as they ponder Jesus’ words and their experience.

As Christians, we are more than we appear — we are transfigured as members of the body of Christ. We are sons and daughters of the living God. When we are called to a face-to-face encounter with God, we become better people and more authentic Christians because of it.

This realization challenges us to a deeper faith and gives us courage to come down the mountain and to follow Christ. It strengthens us to work for solutions for the economic and environmental problems we currently face, to work for peace, and to stand in solidarity with the suffering.

In April 1968, just before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in a speech: “I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land . . . the Lord anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.” King recognized the significance of his mountaintop experience. He came down the mountain to the streets of Memphis to walk in solidarity with those who struggled for freedom from poverty, racism, and injustice. His encounter with God transfigured his life and our world as he aroused the conscience of a nation by working tirelessly to pass the Civil Rights Bill.

Like King, we are called to come down from the mountaintop as changed people. We are called to see beyond our self-interest and challenged to listen to Jesus.

Look beyond a “comfortable” Jesus and be challenged to become the people God created us to be. Ask for faith to see the deeper reality of God’s abiding love and presence in our lives as we walk through this Lenten season with gratefulness and courage.

Barbara Roedel is the pastoral associate at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.

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