Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year B 2021
Saved Through Suffering
No one in his or her right mind seeks to suffer. But suffering is an inevitable experience of our existential reality. Life itself is suffering, so said Buddha. And the Christian story is a narrative of love, suffering and healing. From the beginning of the Bible the language is that of suffering, the world was chaotic and formless. God’s Spirit hovered over the waters. God spoke to the chaos and there was order, and God filled the form with creation. Suffering in that context was a gestation. And the whole creation since then have been going through one act of childbirth to another.
In the book of Exodus we find a race being saved through childbirth. For 430 years, the Israelites lived in Egypt. It was not fun. They had to experience hatred, and slavery in the hands of the Egyptians. But their suffering was not an end to the drama of the race. It was indeed the gestation, the act of giving birth. The pain and the suffering made their exodus a unique experience and at the same time the climax of their salvation. Where their story seemed to have ended, God was beginning a new chapter and telling another story that was true to His plan.
Given that the Exodus story, and indeed the whole Jewish Scripture occupied a place in the cultural orientation of the Jews in the time of Christ, one would have expected Jesus’ apostles to have understood the schema of suffering. One would have ordinarily taken for granted that they would have seen in the revelation of Jesus’ suffering not an end, but the process to the birthing of the earth’ future in God’s Kingdom. This future was strange. Nothing like it before, but its coming was not unexpected. However, their slowness to embrace it was a concern.
The Transfiguration event was another step in the telling of the salvation story. Jesus, as biblical scholars hold, is the story of God. His presence recalls all stories told in lieu of His coming, and the story He was telling while He was with His apostles. As He stood with them: Peter, James, and John, He stood in continuity with what God the Father had begun – the birthing of the Kingdom, and He stood in fulfilment of God’s promises. Moses and Elijah appeared, confirming in a symbolic way the truth that God the Father is trustworthy, and He is God.
He is the God who met Moses on the mountain and gave Him the Law to guide His people through their wilderness, their time of suffering and the birthing of Israel’s future and prosperity in the Promised Land. Moses stands with Jesus in this scene as one who had suffered, died, but he is alive. Not by his own power, but by the power of God working in him. Elijah too testified to the purpose of suffering. It is not in vain, he seemed to be saying. Remember what I suffered. But you can see I am alive. My suffering brought me to life, the new life in God’s kingdom.
So in the transfiguration scene of Mark’s Gospel, the past dialogues with the present of the Son and ushered in the future of the reign of God’s Kingdom. Thus, the voice spoke from the cloud of the unknown, a kind fertile void of present-day psychology, announcing – This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him. Listen to Him as He tells the truth of what had happened, and what is about to happen. It is real. He will suffer. He has to feel and live through the state of being abandoned, not only by the world He loves, but also by the Father who loves Him.
Listen to Him as He tells not only His own story, but your story too. Listen to Him as He summons you to dialogue with Him. He is constantly conversing with you, even in those
moments when you do not realise, He is there. He works not simply in the via analogia (a way of the perfect dialoguing only with the perfect) as many would expect, but He is dialectically reaching out to you even in your imperfection, sins, and shame. He is identifying with you, and the suffering your failings have brought you, and through your suffering He is liberating you.
Thus, he was transfigured not in secret, or some distance place, separating Himself from the characters of Peter, James and John by extension us. But He was transfigured as we heard from Mark’s Gospel today in their midst. This is a telling evidence of the intention of God. He is in our suffering. And He will continue to be in our suffering, not as victim, but as victor transfiguring our scars of sin into stars that shine in our darkness and points us forward to the resurrection. A resurrection from sin to virtue. A resurrection from fall to grace – the new life.