Sunday, March 05, 2023

Remembering To Run The Race

2nd Sunday of Lent (A)

Readings: Genesis 12: 1-4; Psalm 32 (33): 4-5,18-20, 22; 2 Timothy 1: 8-10; Matthew 17:1-9

Picture: David Utt on Unsplash

My dear friends, have you ever noticed how, in marathons and other long-distance road races, water stations are set up all along the route? These provide not just drinks, but sometimes also food. What do you think will happen if, out of the blue, a passerby were to walk up to such a station and start helping himself to the refreshments? Very likely, he’ll gently be told that they are only for those running the race.

This close connection between sustenance provided and a race to be run is central to the Transfiguration. In the gospel, the reason why Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain is to encourage and energise them. To provide them with the sustenance they need to keep following him. On the mountain, not only are they shown the Lord in his glory, they are also given assurance that Jesus is indeed the fulfilment of God’s promises in the scriptures. Even more, they are given a further unspoken promise that they will share the Lord’s glory, if only they listen to him.

But listen to him say what? To answer this question, we need to consider what happens in the gospel both before and after the Transfiguration. We need to recall that, before going up the mountain, Jesus had led his disciples to a place called Caesarea Philippi, where he asks them, who do you say that I am? (16:15). After which, he reveals to them, for the first time, that he must go to Jerusalem… undergo great suffering… be killed, and on the third day be raised (16:21). He also tells them that those who want to be his followers, must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him (16:24). Then, after coming down the mountain, Jesus tells them a second time that he is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised (17:22-23). So the experiences on the mountain are meant to help the disciples follow Jesus to Calvary.

This close connection between a sustaining promise of glory and a challenging call to discipleship is central not just to the Transfiguration. We find it in the other readings as well. God’s promise to make Abram a great nation is offered to spur him to obey the call to leave home for an undisclosed destination. And the power of God’s grace revealed in Christ is what gives Timothy the strength to answer Paul’s call to join him in bearing hardships for the sake of the Good News.

Just as the water stations in a marathon are for those who run the race, the consolations of the Transfiguration are for those who follow Christ to the Cross. And we experience this close connection not just at extraordinary moments, such as while on retreat, but also ordinarily, every time we gather for the Eucharist. But to appreciate the connection, to enjoy the sustenance, we need to keep following the Lord. Otherwise, how not to feel bored and distracted at Mass?

Sisters and brothers, the water stations are meant for those who run the race. In this season of Lent, what must we do to better enjoy the sustenance the Lord provides us, so as to bravely take up our cross everyday and follow him?

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