Lent: Exodus of Light and Tents of Peace

Lectio Divina: 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A

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1) Lent: Exodus of penance and light.

     Lent is not just a journey of penance of people grieving for their sin. It is the path of light or better, the conversion to light. The victory over temptation is already a source of transfiguration.

     This Sunday’s Gospel presents us with the fact of the Transfiguration of Christ. It is an event that marked the lives not only of Jesus, but also of Peter, James and John and must mark our existence.

     The context is of prayer on Mount Tabor. It is a very special and privileged time. It is the revelation of the divinity of Jesus. It is a moment of light that Jesus had wanted to prepare his disciples for the passion and us too so that we come prepared to Good Friday. We too must enter into the mystery of the Transfiguration and make it our own. Not only must we contemplate the radiant Christ, but become what we behold.

     The first way to participate in the supernatural gift of the Transfiguration is make time to pray and listen to the Word of God; it is to focus our attention over the consecrated Host. Furthermore, especially in this time of Lent, it is to respond to the divine invitation of penance by some voluntary act of mortification outside the renunciation imposed by the burdens of everyday life.

     Another way to live the mystery of the Transfiguration is to imagine the scene described in the Gospel and identify with one of the three apostles who accompanied Jesus on Mount Tabor : » And he was transfigured before them (the three apostles, Peter , James and John ) : his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light» (Mt 17:1-2 ). Jesus is transfigured: the white robes (St. Maximus the Confessor says that, “his clothes became white, bore the symbol of the words of Sacred Scripture that became clear and transparent and bright” Ambiguum 10: page 91, 1128 B) and the shining face take us in the direction of the Son of Man of Daniel, glorious and victorious. In this way, it is revealed that Jesus, who is on his way to the Cross, is the Lord and that He is actually on the way to the light of the Resurrection. The last and painful pilgrimage that Jesus is pursuing hides a Pascal meaning. But it is a fleeting and provisional anticipation: the road ahead is that of the Cross. And in fact, the three beloved disciples, called to see in advance the glory of Jesus, are the same ones that in Gethsemane will be called to see his weakness. Peter, James and John (and we with them), contemplating the divinity of the Lord, are prepared to deal with the scandal of the cross, as it is sung in an old hymn, «On the mount you have transfigured and your followers, as far as they were able, have beheld your glory so that, seeing you crucified, they understand that your passion was voluntary and announce to the world that you truly are the splendor of the Father.»

2) The tents and the Tent.

     The Gospel continues narrating that, beside the transfigured Jesus, “Moses and Elijah[1] appeared, conversing with him” (Mt 17:3); Moses and Elijah, the figure of the Law and the Prophets. It was then that Peter, delighted, exclaimed: “Lord, it is good for us to be here! If you want , I will make three tents[2] here , one for you , one for Moses and one for Elijah «(Matthew 17:4) . But I believe that in this Gospel’s passage the tent can be interpreted in reference to the exodus.

     The forty years in the desert were a time of transition and testing, but were also a special time. In the desert, the tents must be erected every evening and put away every morning. The desert is the place of horror and death, the place of scorpions, snakes, the place of thirst and hunger, the place of hidden raiders who fall suddenly on the caravan. But at the same time it is the place of strength and life. Never before as in the desert are the people strong because they are bare, lightweight, carry little baggage but plenty of life, a lot of hope, a lot of energy to cherish it later on when they arrive in the Country[3].

     The desert and the tents were and are a privileged place, the place where you are face to face with God. They are also the place and the time of the total dependence. Already in the desert of the exodus, the facts that the New Testament will take over as the last, messianic and eschatological, namely the water, the manna and the Word, are understood precisely in this sense of total dependence on God.

      The people who live under the tent cannot do without vital elements such as water and food, manna and the quails of the desert (Exodus 16, 1-36 and 17, 1-7). The Lord sends the goods, but the Lord wants the people to have full availability and dependence and to prove it, because the Lord does not miss anything to anyone.

     But we must also speak of the tent with a capital T. In fact, St. Augustine already commented on the phrase of St. Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, saying that we have a single dwelling: Christ. He “is the Word of God, the Word of God in the Law, the Word of God in the Prophets “(Sermo de Verbis Ev. 78.3: PL 38, 491). The Lord has established his tent among the tents, these tents become the place where to live a true life due to the fact that the Lord is present; He is the Emmanuel, God- with-us, God among us, always.

     This Tent among the tents implies that God becomes like men. It is a God who lowered himself and is almost destroyed, to dwell among the tents of men.

     An example of tents next to The tent are the consecrated Virgins. These women are called to live their lives with availability and full dependence. In the Church, these women are called to give themselves totally to the Lord with the choice of Virginity and continuing to live in the world. Their consecration expresses the importance of a joyful «totality» in the gift of self and of the constant search for the primacy of contemplation in the total availability to service in the Church, with and for brothers.

Roman Rite – Second Sunday of Lent – Year A – March 16, 2014

Gn 12:1-4; Ps 33; 2 Tim 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9

Ambrosian Rite – Second Sunday of Lent – Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Ex 20:2 -24; Ps 18; Eph 1.15-23; Jn 4:5-42

Patristic Reading

St. Augustin of Hippo

Sermon 78, 3-6

                  Peter sees this (the Transfiguration of Christ), and as a man savoring the things of men says, «Lord, it is good for us to be here.» He had been wearied with the multitude, he had found now the mountain’s solitude; there he had Christ the Bread of the soul. What! should he depart thence again to travail and pains, possessed of a holy love to Godward, and thereby of a good conversation? He wished well for himself; and so he added, «If Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.» To this the Lord made no answer; but notwithstanding Peter was answered. «For while he yet spake, a bright cloud came, and overshadowed them.» He desired three tabernacles; the heavenly answer showed him that we have One, which human judgment desired to divide. Christ, the Word of God, the Word of God in the Law, the Word in the Prophets. Why, Peter, dost thou seek to divide them? It were more fitting for thee to join them. Thou seekest three; understand that they are but One.

                  As the cloud then overshadowed them, and in a way made one tabernacle for them, «a voice also sounded out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son.» Moses was there; Elias was there; yet it was not said, «These are My beloved sons.» For the Only Son is one thing; adopted sons another. He was singled out in whom the Law and the prophets g
lorified. «This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him!» Because ye have heard Him in the Prophets, and ye have heard Him in the Law. And where have ye not heard Him? «When they heard this, they fell» to the earth. See then in the Church is exhibited to us the Kingdom of God. Here is the Lord, here the Law and the Prophets; but the Lord as the Lord; the Law in Moses, Prophecy in Elias; only they as servants and as ministers. They as vessels: He as the fountain: Moses and the Prophets spake, and wrote; but when they poured out, they were filled from Him.

                  But the Lord stretched out His hand, and raised them as they lay. And then «they saw no man, save Jesus only.» What does this mean? When the Apostle was being read, you heard, «For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.» And «tongues shall cease,» when that which we now hope for and believe shall come. In then that they fell to the earth, they signified that we die, for it was said to the flesh, «Earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return.» But when the Lord raised them up, He signified the resurrection. After the resurrection, what is the Law to thee? what Prophecy? Therefore neither Moses nor Elias is seen. He only remaineth to thee, «Who in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.» He remaineth to thee, «that God may be all in all.» Moses will be there; but now no more the Law. We shall see Elias there too; but now no more the Prophet. For the Law and the Prophets have only given witness to Christ, that it behoved Him to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day, and to enter into His glory. And in this glory is fulfilled what He hath promised to them that love Him, «He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him.» And as if it were said, What wilt Thou give him, seeing Thou wilt love him? «And I will manifest Myself unto him.» Great gift! great promise! God doth not reserve for thee as a reward anything of His own, but Himself. O thou covetous one; why doth not what Christ promiseth suffice thee? Thou dost seem to thyself to be rich; yet if thou have not God, what hast thou? Another is poor, yet if he hath God, what hath he not?

                  Come down, Peter: thou wast desiring to rest on the mount; come down, «preach the word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.» Endure, labour hard, bear thy measure of torture; that thou mayest possess what is meant by the white raiment of the Lord, through the brightness and the beauty of an upright labouring in charity. For when the Apostle was being read we heard in praise of charity, «She seeketh not her own. She seeketh not her own;» since she gives what she possesses. In another place there is more danger in the expression, if you do not understand it right. For the Apostle, charging the faithful members of Christ after this rule of charity, says, «Let no man seek his own, but another’s.» For on hearing this, covetousness is ready with its deceits, that in a matter of business under pretence of seeking another’s, it may defraud a man, and so, «seek not his own, but another’s.» But let covetousness restrain itself, let justice come forth; so let us hear and understand. It is to charity that it is said, «Let no man seek his own, but another’s.» Now, O thou covetous one, if thou wilt still resist, and twist the precept rather to this point, that thou shouldest covet what is another’s; then lose what is thine own. But as I know thee weIl, thou dost wish to have both thine own and another’s. Thou wilt commit fraud that thou mayest have what is another’s; submit then to robbery that thou mayest lose thine own. Thou dost not wish to seek thine own, but then thou takest away what is another’s. Now this if thou do, thou doest not well. Hear and listen, thou covetous one: the Apostle explains to thee in another place more clearly this that he said, «Let no man seek his own, but another’s.» He says of himself, «Not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.» This Peter understood not yet when he desired to live on the mount with Christ. He was reserving this for thee, Peter, after death. But now He saith Himself, «Come down, to labour in the earth; in the earth to serve, to be despised, and crucified in the earth. The Life came down, that He might be slain; the Bread came down, that He might hunger; the Way came down, that life might be wearied in the way; the Fountain came down, that He might thirst; and dost thou refuse to labour? ‘Seek not thine own.’ Have charity, preach the truth; so shall thou come to eternity, where thou shalt find security.»


[1] Moses and Elijah are persons particularly qualified to talk with Jesus on his way. Moses led the people of God in the passage from Egypt to the Promised Land and called by God to lead the march of Israel to freedom, he tried repeatedly the bitterness of dispute and abandonment. Finally he died on the threshold of the Promised Land without the satisfaction of entering it, but never wavered in his faith. Elijah – the prophet among the most stubborn ones, intolerant to all forms of idolatry and corruption of the government – knew the escape, the desert and the solitude, but also the joy of the presence of the Lord and the comfort of his word. Jesus is walking to the Cross, but it is the final prophet, the last word of God: «Listen to him.» The fundamental attitude of the disciple is listening.

[2] The new translation of the Gospel translates the Greek word “skene” with “huts” instead of “tents» in reference to the Feast of Tabernacles. The Latin translation uses the word “tabernaculum.» The festival of Sukkoth begins on the 15th of the month of Tishri (September-October, because the Jewish calendar, unlike the Christian calendar, is lunar and follows that the cycle of the moon. To be more precise, it is based on the time interval that passes from one new moon to another). Sukkot in Hebrew means “huts » and the huts precisely characterize this joyous holiday that commemorates the stay of the Jews in the desert after the liberation from slavery in Egypt . Forty years they lived in precarious dwellings accompanied by “clouds of glory. »  I think, however, that writing these reflections using the word “tent » will help us to better understand the fact of being pilgrims and not having permanent home on earth.

[3]  It is useful to remember that the first monks towards the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth, “returned” in the desert. Usually it is said that they fled out of fear of civilization and contempt for the realities of the world, but that is a cliché. In fact, the first monks «fled » into the desert to challenge the comfortable life of the Christians of their time, who were getting to be men who liked comfort, satiety and a life definitive, not a pilgrim one. The Christians had lost what for the first three centuries was the true instinct of the desert, that is to proceed and to make the others go on, to contribute so that the others, who are not part of God’s people, “go» anyway » forward.» So the first monks have made a huge act of courage, an act of “coming back”, which is actually a “go forward again” back to the privileged times of the desert, of the tent.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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