2nd Sunday of Lent (A) 2017

Todays Gospel reading is full of symbolism. Without understanding the meaning of these symbols it doesn’t make much sense. Jesus goes up a high mountain. Jesus is often depicted as going up a mountain or hill when he wishes to make an important speech or perform an important action. The mountain signifies a place of revelation. It brings to mind mount Sinai where God appeared to Moses and to the people of Israel. Where he made a covenant with them and gave them the ten commandments. Where his presence was signified by peals of thunder, flashes of lightening and dense clouds. It does not necessarily mean that he actually climbed all these mountains or hills. If it did, then he was quite a mountaineer. He brought along Peter, James and John to witness what was to happen. He was transfigured in their sight ; his face and clothes shining brightly. Moses and Elijah appeared with him, talking with him. Moses represents the laws of the Old Testament and Elijah the prophesy of the Old Testament. Moses and Elijah were not transfigured. This signifies that Jesus was more important that Moses and Elijah. In the Old Testament nobody was more important than Moses and Elijah except God. Peter, missing this significance, suggested that they build three shelters one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. ( This assumes that Peter regarded them as equals.) This building of shelters refers to the very important Jewish feast of Tabernacles which happened at harvest time every year when the grape and olive pickers lived in little shelters in the fields until the harvest was gathered. It was a time of joy and camaraderie. It harkened back to when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years and lived in temporary shelters. Peter had no sooner finished speaking when a bright cloud enveloped them ( the cloud signifying the presence of God) and a voice from the cloud said “this is my son, listen to him.” ( this also correcting Peter’s assumption that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were equals). The great teachers of the Old Testament were Moses and Elijah. Now God has replaced them by sending His own Son to be our teacher and exemplar. The one who must be listened to is now Jesus of Nazareth and not Moses or Elijah. The three Apostles were terrified and fell face down to the ground. But Jesus came and touched them telling them not to be afraid. Jesus touched the sick and brought them healing and joy. Here his touch frees his Apostles from fear of the God, often depicted in the Old Testament as vengeful, cruel and judgemental. The God of Jesus was ‘Abba’ the beloved parent. This clash between the God of Moses (the God of Law) and the God of Jesus of Nazareth (the God of Mercy) was a major problem in the early church. The first council of the Church ( the council of Jerusalem) was devoted to solving this clash of opinion and attitude. One section of the church ( Jewish and conservative) wanted Christians to observe all the traditional laws and regulations of the Old Testament ( putting new wine into old wineskins, as Jesus himself described it ). The other section ( mostly Gentiles or non Jews ) wanted none of this, as they regarded such traditions and regulations as irrelevant. It is uncanny that we have the very same problem in our church today. Pope Francis and his followers want us to put the new wine ( Christianity) into new wineskins. A group of cardinals, bishops, priests and some lay people want to hold on to the old wineskins at any cost. That is basically what the present debate and contention in our church is all about. This debate and contention is not necessarily bad. In fact it is good and healthy – as long as my side wins!!!