The Second Sunday of Lent
24 February 2013
Vigil Mass, 7.00pm
St. Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan
My dear friends,
The Gospel reading of this evening’s Mass brings us to the top of a mountain to pray with Jesus, Peter, John and James. One of the most famous mountain-top experiences of our own time was that of Martin Luther King, a human rights activist in the USA. He spoke about it in his famous and prophetic mountain-top speech, made in Memphis Tennessee on 3 April 1968, during a civil rights protest. As it turned out, the speech was his last, because he was assassinated the following day.
His speech climaxed with these words : “We have some difficult days ahead. But it really does not matter with me now, because I have been to the mountain-top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place, but I am not concerned with than now. I just want to do God’s will. He has allowed me to go up the mountain. I have looked over, and I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
Martin Luther King compared his situation to that of Moses, who was called by God to lead the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the promised land. After a lifetime of service to his people, Moses himself died without reaching this land but God did give him a glimpse of it. King’s speech made all the difference to his friends and to those in the civil rights movement, in the weeks after his assassination. They began to believe that King was not simply a victim of circumstances, but that his death was part of the working out of God’s plan in the long struggle for liberation. In Martin Luther King’s case, it was the liberation of the black community in the United States.
There were three disciples on the mountain – Peter, James and John along with Jesus. Their experience gave them a glimpse of something special, – heavenly glory, – before they went to witness the shameful death of Jesus as a public criminal. There are lots of comparisons that could be made between the two sets of disciples, all of which bring us to a sense of gratitude that we are allowed to share the experience of this sacred place. In religious literature and in the Bible, mountains were places of divine revelations, places where the human and the divine could touch. Here, in this instance, the Apostles witness the divinity revealed and come to see Jesus as a bringer of healing and of liberation.
Peter wants to mark the occasion and build three tents. He seems to want to hold on to the moment and not lose its power. He feels maybe he would be happy to stay on the mountain top, away from the concerns of everyday life. But God’s voice calls for humanity to listen to Jesus. He takes a different path and leads the disciples back down the mountain. There is work to be done. There are times for withdrawal from everyday life, for contemplation and for prayer. These times should be valued, as Jesus himself valued them. But today’s Gospel also presents us with a challenge – to engage in the world around us and to transform it for the better.
Religion is not so much about building temples and shrines, as about healing hurts and bringing liberation to people who are poor and vulnerable, and who may feel that life has left them behind. There are times when the voice of God calls us to come down from the mountain and out of our Church buildings and work for justice, healing and peace. When we are willing to let go of who we think we are and what we think we are, when we are willing to lose our lives in order to find them again, we are participating in the story of the transfiguration. We are called to open our eyes and our hearts. We are called to transform the world by following the teaching and example of Jesus in showing compassion especially to those left behind on the fringes of society. We might even follow the example of people like Martin Luther King and devote our lives to working for social justice, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice our lives for it.
+Liam S. MacDaid
24 February 2013