In the Gospel Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray. What mountain??? St. Luke doesn’t tell us. The mountain kind of appears out of nowhere in his Gospel.
But that is OK because this is not a specific physical mountain. It is as much a spiritual mountain as it is a geographical one. This is about a mountain top experience, an elevated, peak experience. It could take place on an actual physical peak, or in your own bedroom. The Transfiguration is an example or a “paradigm,” to use a 25 cent word, of what is true for all of us.
Anyway, Peter, John and James had been “overcome by sleep.” The NAB puts it, they “were weighed down by sleep.” It is not just that they were tired, needed a few winks, and began to snore. Don’t think of this only as physical sleep, but rather as a condition of being spiritually asleep.
Several times in the Gospels Jesus tells us, “Stay awake!” Jesus is not urging us to insomnia. Jesus is talking about staying awake spiritually. It is all too easy to become spiritually dull and spiritually fall asleep and not be aware of what is happening in your own life spiritually.
However, up on this mountain, in this peak experience with Jesus, they became “fully awake.” The eyes of their hearts were opened, and they became aware of what was going on spiritually. The Gospel states: “they saw his glory and the two men (Moses and Elijah) standing with Jesus,” The glory that Peter, John and James saw was not like strobe lights and glittering disco balls and cinematic special effects. Rather the glory they saw was a spiritual reality: the glory, as St. John tells us, “of an only Son coming from the Father full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)
The Transfiguration was first and foremost a spiritual event. Peter, prone to speaking before thinking, babbles a bit, and the situation changes. A cloud came and cast a shadow over them. They became frightened when they entered the cloud. You see, they are not in charge. They don’t control how this encounter goes. The same is true for us. When we approach mystery, we are no longer in control. It can be confusing, disorienting, uncomfortable.
“Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.”
Several years ago I took a trip on the Amazon River in Peru. And they took us around to see all sorts of animals and villages and sights. One of the most memorable was the evening we went out in the boat to a lonely stretch of the river. They turned off the motor, and invited us to close our eyes and just LISTEN. We did that for five minutes. Five minutes is a very long time to listen. But it was amazing what we heard. The lapping of the water against the sides of the boat. The occasional cough of one of the fellow travelers. Various types of birds. The breeze in the trees. A fish jumping in the river. And far, far off the howler monkeys. It was really amazing.
Do you ever go to some park or secluded spot and just sit and listen? It is wonderful, but not easy.
We have so many distractions. So much noise. And we become addicted to it, turning on the TV as soon as we enter a room even though we aren’t watching it. It is hard to turn off the noise, to still ourselves, and just listen. And that is simply to listen to what is going on around us in the physical world.
To really still ourselves and listen to what is going on inside us is even more difficult, but more revealing. To still ourselves and listen for the Lord is even more difficult still, and more rewarding still.
But the command God gives Peter, John and James in the Gospel today, and through them to us, is to “listen to him.” Listen.
We are still early in Lent. Lent is a great time to LISTEN. I think that is why we have this Gospel today. I urge you to try to listen to Jesus this Lent. Set aside time to read Scripture, to pray, and most importantly to quiet yourself and listen for God’s message to you. It may come in words, but probably won’t. It may come as a feeling, or a sense, or an emotion. Maybe as an idea about something you need to address, like a relationship with another person. Maybe it will be a challenge. Maybe it will be a consolation and a comfort. Maybe it will just be quiet. “Be still and know that I am God” says Psalm 46.
God the Father in the Gospel today tells us: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
We could do much worse for Lent. God bless!