Second Sunday of Lent: Stand up; do not be afraid

Sunday 8 March 2020

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli

Homily: 2nd Sunday in Lent (Year A)
With a bit of reflection, we could all probably recall a moment when the power of someone’s voice shook us to the core. I don’t mean here the violent or cruel voice that does nothing other than cut and tear at our sense of worth. Rather, I am thinking of those experiences where someone’s voice – spoken either softly or loudly, gently or firmly, with few words or many, it doesn’t matter – but which has had the effect of piercing through to our inner life, leaving us overwhelmed by its power to move us. I’m thinking of that voice, and those words, which stopped you in your tracks, which sat you down in a sudden realisation – that voice, and those words of revelation that changed you.

The account of our Lord’s transfiguration occurred in the 17th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, well into Jesus’ public ministry and close to his turn towards Jerusalem and his Passion and death. The disciples – Peter, James and John – had by then been with him for several years. They had witnessed some extraordinary signs and wonders in that time: miraculous healings; acts that defied the laws of nature; teachings of deep hope; moments of revelatory grace. Jesus had invited these disciples into the heart of his own life and mission, and they had walked with him as friends. As remarkable as the Transfiguration of Jesus must have been, we should not think of it as something so fantastical and unbelievable that the disciples would have been anything other than deeply shocked and disturbed by the sight.

And indeed, this is what’s captured in the story, as told to us by Matthew. It is not the sight of Jesus’ glowing body, nor the sudden appearance of Moses and Elijah, that shook Peter, James and John to their core that day on Mount Tabor. Certainly, they were in awe of what was happening before them; who wouldn’t be? But we know they weren’t completely overwhelmed by it, as Peter still had enough wherewithal to blurt out his declaration to build tents of honour for them.

It is not until they heard the voice from the cloud, and the words spoken to them, that the disciples were thrown to the ground in fear and awe. Here is the moment they will remember: that voice, and those words, by which the disciples came to recognise Jesus’ deep identity: the beloved Son of the divine Father; and that voice and those words by which they came to understand their lifelong task: to listen to him. As the disciples lay motionless on the ground, it was Jesus who gently roused them, speaking the words they were to listen to: “Stand up; do not be afraid.”

Each of us who have been Confirmed have also heard that voice, and those words, for each of us have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, one of which is the ‘fear of the Lord’ or ‘awe and wonder’. We too have witnessed the Transfiguration, even though we have not seen Christ’s glowing body, for we have received that which is revealed in the Transfiguration: Jesus Christ, Son of our Heavenly Father, and we have heard his voice in faith. Now it is our turn to listen to Him, for his voice and his words are also spoken to us: ‘Stand up; do not be afraid.’
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