In the Gospel of Matthew, at least some of the disciples are beginning to have a vision for who Jesus really was as we close chapter 16. For it is in verses 13 through 20 that we are told of Peter’s declaration about Jesus: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In verses 21 through 23, Jesus foretells his death as he rebukes Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” And, finally, in verses 24 through 28, Jesus speaks of the cross and self-denial: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (NRSV).
Each of these short selections serves as a moment of epiphany as the disciples’ journey toward what we call the Transfiguration. Matthew 17:1-13 is the final text in the church’s lectionary prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is My Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (NRSV)
Sometimes when we hear truth spoken, we genuinely do not understand what is being said. We cannot understand or even know the implications of what’s being spoken. But then there are other times when we don’t want to hear the truth spoken. At some level, we actually do understand what’s being said, we even glimpse the implications of what’s being spoken. But denying the meaning of the words can bring false comfort. When Jesus says “Get up and do not be afraid,” he’s actually commanding them to hear the spoken truth, even from what appears to be the mouth of God, and to reject the fear and anxiety over a future they have already heard spoken by Jesus.
When undertaken effectively, Lent can be a time of intense listening–a time of willingness to hear what we do not desire to be true–and a reconciling with that truth that even as we fear its implications. In a real sense, Lent can become an entire season of Transfiguration where we’re permitted to glimpse the glory of Jesus even when our minds are rehearsing his journey toward Jerusalem which brings about his ultimate death.
Use the Lenten Devotional to be published and distributed this Sunday in preparation for Ash Wednesday and the experience of Lent, an opportunity to experience the Transfiguration, to behold Jesus’ glory even in the midst of the hard truths of the gospel and of the painful realities of this world. And as you experience this season, discover for yourself those same words spoken by God to you: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.