As an adolescent, I had a lot in common with my youngest brother in terms of my approach to my faith. I was constantly seeking what I called “a spiritual experience.” Ever on the lookout, I became a pretty overinvolved teenager, participating in and facilitating retreats at my high school and in my parish youth ministry program, feeding the homeless in soup kitchens like the Orange County Catholic Worker, and leading Confirmation groups and cantoring Mass through my home parish.
So I feel like I might understand where Peter, John, and James are coming from in this week’s reading from the Gospel of Mark. When Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, Moses and Elijah appear, and the three disciples have the impulse to build tents for them, to give Jesus, Moses, and Elijah a place to rest, thinking this spiritual experience could go on forever. But this was not to be. Just as they begin to voice their idea to Jesus, a cloud appears, and the voice of God reveals to them not only a part of who Jesus is, but also a part of who we are to be in relationship to him. This is my beloved Son; listen to him.
What does Jesus tell us? Time and time again, throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus continuing the line of his Jewish heritage, especially of prophets like Moses and Elijah. At the start of his public ministry, he tells his hearers in his hometown of Nazareth just what he came to do, proclaiming sight to the blind, liberation for captives, a year of jubilee. He is prophetic, challenging the religious and political establishments alike, all to give shape to the Reign of God he was sent to embody and to invite us to embody alongside him.
The Reign of God of which he speaks, to which his actions point is not the kind of geographic territory promised to Abram and his descendants in the First Reading, but rather, it is a vision for a new world within the shell of the old, one that is transfigured as Jesus was on the mountain. Those who embrace the Reign of God as Jesus articulates it in the Sermon on the Mount acknowledge that “our citizenship is in heaven,” as we hear in the Second Reading, but not in such a way that would cause us to ignore the needs of the earth. In enfleshing the Reign of God, the ministry of Jesus is caught up in the right now and the not yet, encouraging us to show not only that we belong to the kind of heaven in which all of creation flourishes, but that that kind of heaven belongs to all of creation. In this time of reflection and action that marks the season of Lent, let us discern the ways we can make room for the world and those who live in it to be transfigured.
Jen Owens is a doctoral student in Christian spirituality at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.