Jesus takes three of his friends, Peter, John and James, and goes up to the top of a mountain to pray. The Apostles promptly proceed to fall asleep, and while Jesus is praying, something happens. His appearance changes, Moses and Elijah appear conversing with Jesus. When they are about to leave, Peter – now awake - says he wants to set up three tents. And then comes the climax, the highpoint. A cloud en-velops them, and from the cloud a voice says, “This is my chosen Son. Listen to him.”
Now think about what the voice of God says. “Listen to him.” I find that a little strange. God could have said, “worship him”, or “obey him”, or “follow him”, or (like Mary at the wedding feast of Cana) “do what he tells you”. But instead God says, “Listen to him.” Why?
Well, to fully understand this I think we need to know the reading. How should this heavenly statement be heard? Is this a great booming voice, like Charleton Heston, or James Earl Jones, God from on high, like on top of that other Biblical mountain, Mount Sinai, God authoritatively delivering another commandment: “THOU SHALT LISTEN TO HIM”?
This is the way we have traditionally heard this. The early Paulist and great preacher, Walter Elliot wrote a sermon for this Sunday, which began: “Doubtless, my brethren, the voice of the Eternal Father commanding the three Apostles to hear and heed His Divine Son was a terrible sound; it overpowered them with fear.”
Maybe. But as I was praying over this Gospel in preparing for this homily, I heard it differently: not so much a commandment, but rather as a sincere, almost imploring, invitation: “This is my SON, my Chosen, my Beloved, and that means I am sending you my HEART.
I have given you the Law, represented by Moses, and you did not get it. I have sent you prophet after prophet after prophet, represented by Elijah, and you did not listen. But now, I am sending you my only Son, my Chosen and Beloved One. This is the most I can give. “Listen to him!”
Almost pleading, a cry from the heart. This, I propose, is how this Gospel should be heard. God is anxious, even desperate, for us to LISTEN to His Son, Jesus Christ. That is how God speaks to us this morning.
Listen! So simple, and yet so difficult. Did you ever have the experience of trying to explain something to someone, who thought they already understood, but had it all wrong, and as you tried to explain it, they kept interrupting, assuming they knew the answer? Never letting you finish. You say, “Listen to me!” Frustrating, isn’t it?
On the other hand, did you ever have the experience of being deeply listened to? Someone really paying attention? Giving you their full, undivided attention? Really trying to hear what you had to say, really understand your position? Such experiences are as wonderful as they are rare. For listening is not easy. It is difficult!
And yet this is what God wants. What God asks of us. “LISTEN to him.”
What do we have to do to listen? Well, first of all we have to stop talking. We have to shut up. Both verbally and mentally. We have to stop formulating our response, what we are going to say, and instead attend to the other, in this case God.
We must be silent.
Then we have to turn down the noise, turn off the TV, the DVD player, the phone, the tablet, and all the other distractions, so that we can listen. To listen to God we have to quiet ourselves and welcome the silence.
Then we have to open ourselves to receive what the other has to say, suspending our judgement, our critical comments, our knee-jerk reactions, and accept the other on their terms.
Finally we have to pay attention, attend to the other, seek to see with their eyes, hear with their ears, smell with their nose, and think with their mind. Then we finally hear. Then we at last listen.
This is what God asks of us this Lent, today, to do for His Son, Jesus Christ. Listen to him. This is a wonderful Lenten practice.
Listen to Him.