Transfiguration reveals our true identity

On this the second week of Lent, we receive an important reminder to help us stay focused on why this is such an important time in the Church year. Yes, we fast, but this is for renovation, not deprivation. The gospels depicting Christ’s fasting in the desert are not visions of suffering, they are instructions for freeing our souls as he did from the bonds of the flesh. Thanks to Christ’s example of freedom from his belly and fortitude against temptation, we are reminded that as his brothers and sisters we are also creatures of light. Through him we are renewed as beneficiaries of an ancient covenant with God, our heavenly father, dating further back than the era of Abraham, our church’s father in faith. This Sunday’s first reading (Gn 15:5-12, 17-18) reminds us of that time when even Abram (whom God renamed Abraham, father of many) needed to renew his faith that something great was about to happen to his family.

The Lord God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” … It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”

The Old Testament is filled with references to geography and the importance placed on taking title to earthly assets. With Christ’s arrival, God makes a new covenant with humanity, freeing us from our focus on inheriting clods of dirt and giving us a chance to be transfigured in the light of his Son. But as today’s gospel reading shows (Lk 9:28b-36), the disciples who witnessed Christ’s transfiguration in the company of our Old Testament forefathers still needed to be transfigured out of their focus on the flesh.

While [Jesus] was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying.

Peter didn’t understand that beings of light don’t need shelter, they thrive on exposure so that others may rise from the earthly things in which they’ve buried themselves. Paul was a living example of such a transfiguration and, having gone through it, his mission was to save as many others as he could from a similar burial in darkness, as he tells the Philippians in our second reading (Phil 3:17—4:1).

[Many] conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.

The transfiguration Peter witnessed was not a moment in time but a vision of our inheritance. Tents like those he wanted to erect are temporary shelters for nomads. We’re destined for a permanent home illuminated by our eternal light.

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