Visit to the Mountaintop
Second Sunday of Lent
March 1, 2015
The first full week of Lent separates the proclamation of Mark 1:12-15 (The Temptation in the desert) and Mark 9:2-10 (The Transfiguration on the mountaintop), but almost the entire ministry of Jesus occurred in between these two significant events in the life of the Lord. So, it’s interesting that the Church should choose this sequence of Readings to begin the Lenten Season. It gives a sense of geography and journey to the Lenten experience, but there is something far deeper here.
For one thing, the contrast between desert and mountaintop reminds us of the “ups and downs” of our Lenten journey…or even our lives. (Have you been perfectly faithful to the commitment you made before Ash Wednesday?) Sometimes it’s easy to “be good” and other times, it is so very, very hard. There are times during Lent…or during life… when we enjoy a mountaintop view of the Kingdom of God. At those times when we are graced to rise above the world…it’s as if we can see forever…right into The Promised Land…and we want to be worthy to be part of it all. But then there are other times, for any number of reasons, when we are bone dry, with a hot desert wind almost sucking the spiritual life right out of us.
Another obvious contrast is the image of Jesus which these successive Readings offer us: In the desert, subjected to temptation, we are invited to ponder Jesus’s human nature. Transfigured before the three He chose to labor with Him to the top of a mountain, Jesus gives the briefest glimpse of His Divinity. His earthly Body “transfigured” helped to prepare them, as well as us, to better understand what it means when Christ reappears Easter Sunday morning…RESURRECTED.
Possibly, in her wisdom, the Church pairs these two episodes in the Life of Christ at the outset of Lent as a guidebook for us to follow on our journey. There is a cautionary lesson in the Temptation of Jesus in the desert. Very simply, we are reminded that to be human means to be vulnerable to urges and inclinations that make us less than what God created us to be. But, to be FULLY HUMAN…as only Jesus was, means we have the power to override these impulses. And when we do, we are very likely to enjoy the same invitation that Peter, James, and John were honored with: “Come with me to the top of the mountain.”
In other words, the path to the mountain top begins in the desert. But for those who manage to struggle through the rigors of “basic training,” an unimaginable view awaits at the end of the trail. At the top of the mountain, our deepest longings are satisfied. On the mountaintop, we are free from temptations, as well as from the confines of time and space. On the mountaintop…we breathe in the purest of air…the Holy Spirit…and are offered the briefest glimpse of what awaits us when, once and for all, we set aside our earthly bodies. At the top of the mountain, we commune with all of those holy women and men who have gone before us and through their company and companionship, in a way, we are changed…purified…transfigured.
Unfortunately, we can’t stay up there. The air is too rare for our fragile earthly bodies to tolerate for long. We have to come back down into this world, where, once again, we find ourselves vulnerable to temptation. But, because of our brief visit to the mountaintop, we are better able to say… One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, recalling that the Eternal Word of God took flesh to dwell among us. When we do our best to live by Christ here and now…someday, we will dwell on God’s Holy Mountain for all eternity.