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No Resurrection Without the Cross
Gospel Reflection for March 5, 2023, the second Sunday of Lent - Mt 17:1-9
And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart:
And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow.
And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him.
And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.
And the disciples hearing, fell upon their face, and were very much afraid.
And Jesus came and touched them: and said to them, Arise, and fear not.
And they lifting up their eyes saw no one but only Jesus.
And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying: Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of man be risen from the dead. (Mt 17:1-9 DRA)
The Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Lent focuses on the Transfiguration, one of the most important events in Scripture and the clearest manifestation of the divinity of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels. In this meeting, which like all great events in revelation history, including Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, the giving of the Law to Moses and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, occurred on a mountaintop, Christ was unveiled as the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets – symbolized by the presence of Moses and Elias – as well as the Creator of the resurrection of the dead, as prophesied in 2 Maccabees: “the King of the world will raise us up, who die for his laws, in the resurrection of eternal life.” (2 Mac 7:14)
Moses and Elias, two Old Testament saints whose bodies were assumed into Heaven, (2 Kings 2:11; Jude 1:9) physically demonstrate that Christ is “not the God of the dead, but of the living”. (Mt 22:32) Accordingly, Christ told the disciples to tell no one of the Transfiguration until He was risen from the dead in order to show that He alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6) and that the living water which He alone can give requires the ultimate sacrifice of crucifixion, both that which He offered in charity for the sins of the world and our mortification to sin in our own lives, first through Baptism and then a life of self-sacrifice, obedience and penance. Just as Christ’s garments became “white as snow,” so the robes of the saints in Heaven are washed white in the Blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14) St. Thomas Aquinas thus taught: “Jesus’ baptism proclaimed ‘the mystery of the first regeneration,’ namely, our Baptism; the Transfiguration ‘is the sacrament of the second regeneration’: our own Resurrection.” (Catechism, 556) Likewise, St. Augustine exhorted, “Life goes down to be killed; Bread goes down to suffer hunger; the Way goes down to be exhausted on his journey; the Spring goes down to suffer thirst; and you refuse to suffer?”
There is no resurrection without the Cross – for Jesus or for the members of His Body, the Church. Holiness is not easy, comfortable or popular; it requires renunciation of self, of the ways of the world and even of many good things which can distract us from the Way. This is the reason for Lenten fasting and works of mercy: to put things in perspective, to show us Who is truly most important. (cf. Mt 10:37) Yet, even in the midst of the same abandonment which Christ felt on the Cross, surrounded by the brutal reality of sin and death, we can forever persevere in His hope. Christ won eternal life for us from the beginning of time, as St. Paul wrote in the Epistle, and “manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments”, (CCC 568) in preparation for the Beatific Vision when His image in us will be restored and divinized to perfect likeness: “But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)
You were transfigured on the mountain, and your disciples, as much as they were capable of it, beheld your glory, O Christ our God, so that when they should see you crucified they would understand that your Passion was voluntary, and proclaim to the world that you truly are the splendor of the Father. (Byzantine liturgy, Kontakion for the Feast of the Transfiguration)