Reading 1: Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
Reading 2: Romans 8:31b-34
Gospel: Mark 9: 2-10
From the Desert to the Mountaintop: A Call to All of Us
In last Sunday’s reading of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was praying in the desert for forty days and forty nights. Afterward, when John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
In this second Sunday of Lent, our gospel passage is halfway through the gospel. We have made a turn from the miracle stories that abound in the first half toward the road to Jerusalem that will include Jesus’ suffering, death, and ultimately, resurrection. Already in the preceding chapter, Jesus refers to the suffering and death he will face. The disciples do not receive this easily, and Peter is soundly rebuked by Jesus when he asks Jesus to tone down this message. Jesus actually does the opposite and tells the crowd, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (8:34-35).
I don’t imagine we are that different from Peter, or at least I am not. I do not want to suffer, nor do I want those I love to suffer. This is quite normal! Yet this past year has held a lot of suffering for many of us. In the US, we have hit the still unimaginable milestone of 500,000 persons dead from COVID 19, and in the entire world, we have lost at least 2.5 million people to this pandemic. The impact is global: loss of income and employment for many; massive disruption in education; weak health care infrastructures buckling under overwhelming need; physical distancing needs opening up our social vulnerabilities; and political upheaval and leadership gaps exposing how much work is to be done. And again, some persons and groups continue to suffer at a higher rate than others.
At the same time, many have entered the fiery abyss, responding. Grocery store clerks, cleaners, health care workers, delivery workers, researchers, manufacturers, educators, public health officials, and many more on every continent. They continue their ministries and remind us of the sacred dignity of work.
Yes, the roads we walk on include suffering, and like Peter, we, too, long for good news. In today’s gospel, we find good news on the mountaintop and on the road. Jesus leads Peter, James, and John to a mountaintop and away from the crowds below. On the mountaintop, Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. Elijah and Moses appear and speak with Jesus. Prophets both name injustices and proclaim God’s vision of another way forward; Jesus is in the line of the prophets – and more. The disciples watch, frightened and in awe, and Peter interrupts when he tries to suggest they build booths on the mountaintop for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. The call is quite different, and we hear God’s voice from the cloud proclaim, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Echoing Jesus’ baptismal experience (Mk 1:11), Jesus’ identity is announced to the disciples. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus is loved by God. Listen to Jesus.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” We are told and offered this as well. Jesus’ message? That we are beloved of God. That we are loved by Jesus, even unto death. Jesus’ message? This way of love will include joys as well as sorrows, new life as well as dying, radical community building as well as eliminating unjust structures. Jesus’ message? In the midst of everything – in accepting God’s love and loving one another – the beloved disciples will be sustained.
This Good News leads us everywhere. The mountaintop experience ends, and the disciples go down the mountain with Jesus. There is work to be done. The Good News of God’s love, mercy, justice, and peace to be proclaimed. The Good News of truth-telling and calling out lies, repentance that may mean reparations, living sustainably so the earth and next generations thrive, practicing justice as well as mercy.
We need to remind ourselves and one another to abide in God’s love and love, one another as God loves us – boundlessly, in the desert, on the mountaintop, and on the roads we travel. We need mountaintop reminders so that together we can walk in the midst of suffering and joy and bring love to both.
Listen. You are God’s beloved.
Love one another.
So we go.
Sr. Maria Cimperman, RSCJ
Associate Professor of Theological Ethics
Director, Center for the Study of Consecrated Life