The second stage of the way of Lent brings us, as is customary, to a high mountain (Mt 17:1) that tradition identifies with Mount Tabor, where Jesus ascends together with Peter, James, and John.
Mountain tops immediately refer to the place of encounter with God, to the place where He reveals Himself. And here also, in this event, God effectively reveals Himself. In this case, He does it in a completely new way. The place where God reveals Himself is not in the powers of nature, not in all His power, but in the man Jesus.
As a result of sin, man became incapable of reflecting or revealing the glory of God: closed in on himself, hunched on himself, man was able only to manifest himself, his works, his limits. For Jesus, instead, He partakes fully of the life of the Father, full of His love, as we saw in the Baptism; and He is completely obedient to Him, as we heard last Sunday. Jesus has nothing of His own, nothing that is not related to the Father. Therefore, His entire humanity can reveal, can manifest the glory of the Father, His beauty, His life, without keeping anything for Himself.
The evangelist Matthew, attempting to describe the appearance of Jesus at the time of the Transfiguration, points to two elements: face and clothes (Mt 17:2): we could say that inside, deep in Himself, Jesus has a light that radiates outward, illuminating everything else. Jesus has life in Himself, and this life is light (cf. Jn 1:4).
We dwell solely on two aspects.
The first pertains to Peter’s question, who, on seeing the beauty of His face and clothes, evidently, wants to prolong the moment if possible. He proposes to make three tents, to remain there (Mt 17:4). The voice of the Father seems to respond to these words: the way to stay with Jesus always is not so much to make three curtains, but to listen to Him, to remain listening to Him (Mt 17:5).
The clear reference is to Baptism, where the voice of the Father already made itself heard. There, at the Jordan, the Father spoke a word of love about Jesus (“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” Mt 3:17), and this word nourished the life of Son, first in the long days of fasting in the desert, and then in the steps of Jesus’ mission among men.
Now, this life shines on Tabor, and the Father invites all to listen to the Son, which carries in His flesh that Word of love that He heard for the first time (“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him” Mt. 17:5).
Last Sunday, in the temptations episode, that Word was put to the test: the devil proposed to Jesus not to believe it, not to live as a Son. But Jesus, unlike Adam, did not give in to the temptation, and He remained listening to the Word of the Baptism.
The second aspect pertains to an episode that Matthew places just before the Transfiguration account. After the first announcement of the Passion, Peter reacts in a very strong way: he takes Jesus aside (“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, «God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you»” Mt 16:22) just as on the mountain Jesus takes him and the two other disciples aside (Mt 17:1) and reproves him for what he has just said (“Get behind me, Satan! You are a scandal to me” Mt. 16:23).
In calling Peter Satan, Jesus reads in Peter’s words a temptation similar to that which He had in the desert and recognizes that the words of the apostle are not words from God, but from men (“because you are not thinking according to God’s thoughts, but according to humans!” Mt 16:23).
On the mountain, Peter and the apostles were invited directly by the Father to get back to the attitude of the disciple who listens to the Word of the Lord.
He listens to it even if this Word is hard, speaks of suffering, death, and the cross; and he listens to it by keeping before his gaze the face and the white clothing of the One who, giving His life, reveals fully the glory of His Father.
The occurrence of Jesus’ temptations in the desert is positioned, in each of the Synoptic Gospels, after the event of Jesus baptism in the Jordan River. Jesus arose from the Jordan filled with the Holy Spirit, of the very life of God.
And it is precisely the Spirit who leads Him into the desert (Mt 4:1), in ordinary life, that life which is put to the test and asks us to unmask our identity, to show who we are.
The identity is exactly that which, in the Jordan River, was revealed as that of being the beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased (Mt. 3:17). For Him, therefore, this “who are you?” coincides with “whose son are you? To whom do you belong?”
It is no coincidence, therefore, that the tempter begins with this expression: “If you are the Son of God…” (Mt. 4:3.6). Temptation always pertains to this fundamental aspect of life, it always reaches us here, in our relationship with the Father, because it is from here that our life depends.
In the test, therefore, we see precisely this: if we are children, or not.
Jesus knows well He is a Son and for this reason, the devil tempts Him on the content of this relationship, on how to be so. The devil suggests to Him another way of being Son. The temptation is precisely this, it is the subtle thought that they can be different ways of being sons, that each person can choose his/her own way, that each one can choose a different father from the one they have.
Indeed, there is only one, and Jesus chooses it, without yielding to the temptation to invent a different one. What are the alternative ways the devil suggests? In the diversity of situations, the alternative way is just one, the one where it is not the Son who obeys the Father, but it should be the Father that obeys the Son.
In the first temptation, therefore, it should happen that, if I am hungry, I decide how to change things, how to bend them to my service. Creation should obey me, and the Father should obey me.
For Jesus, instead, it is not like this: because what nourishes, what nourishes the life of the son, is precisely every Word that proceeds from the mouth of my Father, therefore I obey Him (Mt. 4:3-4).
In the second temptation, we move on to another level, but the dynamic is always the same: I can do everything, I dare everything, and so I force the Father to save me, to come to my aid.
For Jesus, instead, I can’t do everything, because I leave the Father free to love me as He wants. I don’t force Him to obey me, but it is I who remain in a filial attitude (Mt. 4:5-7).
And so, for the third temptation: I do not decide which God to adore, because cannot have but just one Father (Mt. 4:8-10).
The work of the devil, the purpose of temptation, from the beginning of sacred history, is to suggest to humans that there is a God different than the one who has been revealed as Father: a God who is not love, who does not give everything, who we cannot fully trust, therefore, it is we who must manage by ourselves, we must save ourselves.
This temptation will come back on the Cross, in a yet more dramatic and subtle way. But, there also, Jesus will choose to listen only to the Father, to trust the Father alone, to worship only one Father.
So, it is evident that at the outset of Lent we are asked to revisit our foundations, our identity, which, like that of Jesus, is nothing other than our being loved children, with the gaze of our heart turned to one Father.
This booklet contains some reflections that could help guide the monthly meetings of the Delegations, Sections, Lieutenancies across the world and, at the same time, our personal prayer. Inspired by the words of former Grand Master, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, we want to touch on the main points of our mission and calling as members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and we hope to do so communally: within our local realities as well as globally – in the knowledge that from Taiwan to Norway and from Alaska to South Africa the Knights and Dames are praying in communion; but also individually.
In the following pages you will find twelve themes, one for each month of the year, that touch us closely. In a sort of annual monthly reflection, we can be accompanied in prayer by the meditations of Cardinal O’Brien and by practical reflections.
Blessings on both your reading and your journey!