(Matthew 17:1-9) We’re just over a week into Lent now, and at this point I sometimes wonder whether it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Somehow the shine has worn off all those sacrifices that seemed so exciting at the start. And those iPad games that I gave up? I’m having a hard time remembering how that particular sacrifice is going to help me be more like Christ. (Yes, I know that Jesus didn’t have an iPad!) Although the whole point of Lenten sacrifices is to be renewed and transformed – to grow in our love for Christ and to become more like Him – it’s not always easy.
In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus’ disciples in the same boat. A week earlier, in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had begun to prepare them for what He knew lay ahead. He told them that He would have to suffer at the hands of the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem – that He would be killed, and that on the third day He would be raised. The disciples were confused and discouraged by His words, and Peter was completely outraged (Mt 16:21-22). They had given up everything they had in order to follow Jesus – their homes, their work, and their families. Was this how it was all going to end? Was this to be their reward – after all the sacrifices that they had made and all the suffering they had endured? You can almost hear them echoing the words of Jack Nicholson, “What if this is as good as it gets?!!”1
Jesus knew that what His disciples needed was hope. He needed to strengthen their faith – to give them a glimpse of His glory – so they would be able to endure what was to come. And so He took Peter, James, and John up the mountain, where Scripture tells us that “He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light” (Mt 17:2). There, as Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah, they had a foretaste of what it was really all about – the hope of eternal happiness. It was not Jesus’ suffering that was to be the last word, but the glory that lies beyond the shadow of His Cross – the hope of an eternity with Him in heaven. Their joy was so great that they didn’t want the vision to end!
But the Israelites could not enter the Promised Land until they had spent time in the desert. So, too, Jesus could not rise from the dead without first undergoing His Passion and Death. In the same way, the sacrifices that we make and the suffering that we endure in this life are not meant to be the last word. They are part of our journey, but they are not our destination. Jesus gives us hope that if we remain faithful to Him – if we remain open to His transforming power – He can change us. And once we have passed through the desert of Lent, we, too, will be ready to enter with Him into the joy of Easter.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Quote from the 1997 film, As Good As It Gets. Image credit: TotallySevere.com