Imagine the scene:
Jesus, having brought His three closest disciples with Him to pray on the mountain, is suddenly transfigured – His face shining brilliantly, His clothing bright as light. Moses, the great lawgiver and Elijah, the powerful prophet, are on either side of Him. They spoke of the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission in Jerusalem.
“Finally!,” the Apostles might have thought. “Now, we see Him as Lord and Messiah!”
After that scene passes, Peter is the first to respond with his brilliant idea.
“Let’s make three tents.”
Really, Peter? Tents?
Even the evangelist, Luke, comments that “he did not know what he was saying.”
So what was Peter thinking? Somehow, he wanted to honor our Lord and remember this event. He wanted to share with others what he was coming to realize – that Jesus is the Messiah that everyone was waiting for. The tents might even make great tourist attractions!
But it wasn’t to be. Jesus knew that Peter and the disciples did not yet fully understand Him. He knew that if Peter and the boys build those tents, they would just be their tents – earthly reminders of their earthly hopes and ambitions – to be associated with the Messiah.
What sort of place could they have built for the glory of the Lord? No. Those dwellings would have to wait until they were truly Jesus’ dwellings. No matter how wonderful our spiritual experiences, they are moments in our lives that we must move on from.
We are on a journey – just as we journey with Christ this Lent. Peter didn’t know what he was talking about, but Jesus does. After the wonderful experience of the Transfiguration on the mountain, they must return down and continue the journey – a difficult journey that was to culminate in the Passion of Jesus.
This Lent is about preparing for Easter – both to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord and to remember that this glory is ours as well. Therefore, on this journey, we seek to get our dwellings in order. Jesus wouldn’t let Peter set up dwellings because they were not meant to rest there. God still has work to do.
Our readings today all speak of dwellings – but not just our dwellings. More importantly, they are about the dwelling places that God wants. The gospel offers a couple good lessons for us, who are still on that journey, looking for a dwelling place.
First, Jesus invites the apostles – and us – to intimate prayer with Him. Often in the Gospel, we hear about Christ “going off by Himself” to pray. This time, we are privileged to be there with Him. We must make time to pray, because in prayer, we unite ourselves most clearly with God. When Jesus does this today, we see Him transfigured (I wonder if this happened every time He prayed, and only here do we get to see it?). This is because He is God and in that union, His glory cannot help but shine through. For us, in prayer, we taste the intimacy of God’s desire for us.
Saint Alphonsus Ligouri once said, “Paradise for God is the human heart.” That is where He wishes to dwell for eternity. For God, “heaven” is our heart. So, we look at this dwelling and ask ourselves, “Is it ready for God?” Would God feel welcome here? This is the second lesson. We are not responsible for building tents or reminders to other of how we experience God. We must only show the effects of that encounter. For Peter and the others, this means continuing to walk with Christ, no matter how difficult the journey. There is glory awaiting us too.
Finally, we learn from the gospel that our faith is active. Jesus does not rest there in that wonderful spiritual experience. Rather, He takes the apostles and continues His journey toward Jerusalem. Spiritual experiences are great, and we all need them; however, we cannot make idols out of them. This was Peter’s mistake here, as his “mind is occupied with earthly things,” as the Second Reading warns.
Many people will say that they are “spiritual but not religious.” This is okay, but it misses out on the fullness of our faith experience. Religion helps provide a context within which to process that spiritual experience (if, indeed, that is what they experience). Faith in Christ allows us to see this moment of glory and be strengthened for the reality of living our faith in the midst of trial and difficulty.
So, forget about the tents, Peter. Let God build His own dwelling. And He wishes to set it up right here – in our hearts. That’s the greatest ecstasy that He can imagine; it’s what He is longing for. In this Eucharist, Jesus comes to us and dwells within – opening our hearts again to the presence of His love and life.
During this Lent, we have the opportunity to help make that dwelling the bet it can be for Him, so that at Easter, the glory of our new life can shine through all the brighter.