It’s a bit strange to hear the story of Jesus’ transformation on a Sunday in Lent. Calls for repentance, conversion, reconciliation and other attitudes traditionally associated with Lent would seem to be more appropriate, because that’s want Lent is about, isn’t it? Today’s gospel seems to be misplaced. But it isn’t. In fact, today’s gospel is another step we are supposed to take in our journey through Lent.
First, let me briefly recall last Sunday’s gospel, when Jesus was tempted by the devil. Have you noticed? Jesus, the Son of God, perfect and sinless, was tempted by the devil. Everyone is tempted, everyone faces tough choices, everyone must make difficult decisions. Last Sunday’s gospel was a reminder of that unpleasant reality; but it also should have given us some consolation that our temptations aren’t exclusively unique experiences. Far more importantly, temptations indicate areas of weakness in my life, pointing out where my Lenten efforts should be focused on. Having identified my problem (thanks to my temptations) I have produced my own solution. The problem is that sometimes we know all-to-well our areas of weakness; sometimes we’ve been battling them, trying to change, improve or correct them for years, without any noticeable positive effect. Perhaps, frustrated by the ineffectiveness of our efforts, the situation has got worse. That’s where today’s gospel comes in.
The three Apostles – Peter, James and John – are gobsmacked by what they witness at the summit of the mountain. Their solution is to put up a few tents. When you think about it, what’s the point of such an offer? Are they going to stay on top of the mountain? If so, for how long? What would they do there? Watched from the outside this proposition made by Peter doesn’t make any sense. But, in his mind, this is the solution to the situation. What follows, is supposed to set the Apostles’ minds not just for the moment, but for any future challenges. They are instructed by the words: ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ That final phrase should become our Lenten slogan: ‘Listen to him.’ We know that Jesus’ disciples often came with their own solutions or ideas about how to solve a particular situation. Invariably, their plans were dismissed by Jesus as doing potentially more harm than good. The ultimate victim of following his own plans was Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. Jesus offers better ways of sorting things out, so listen to him.
But what does it actually mean? Well, I’ve found two concise, interconnected definitions: a) to wait attentively for a sound; b) to pay attention; to heed; to obey. When the three Apostles on the mountain hear those words ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him’, they are called to do both: a) to make effort to hear and understand what Jesus says, and b) to obey, to trust, to believe, and to follow what they have heard. We find an example of such an attitude in today’s first reading, when Abram, a man past his best, married to a barren woman also past her best, is given a promise of offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven. A promise that – logically – is impossible to deliver. And yet ‘Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified.’
The best thing we can do this Lent is to learn how to hear and listen to Jesus. He is the the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the One who can lead us out of our troubles and into a brighter future.