Thursday, April 4, 2019

Lent (Sunday #2): Transfiguration and hospitality

Second Sunday of Lent: March 17, 2019

The Gospel at Mass today is wonderful. It’s the story about the Transfiguration. Jesus goes up a mountain with Peter and James and John; Jesus is transfigured, and the apostles see him as he is in heaven, conversing with Moses and Elijah.

I am convinced that hospitality is as significant in the Gospel as truth and salvation and sacrifice. It’s not a decorative side issue; it’s fundamental. And I think it’s worthwhile looking at this Gospel with an eye on hospitality. This reading is multi-faceted, but one facet is about hospitality.

First, the three people whom the apostles see are all figures associated with hospitality, because they were rejected. Moses was a survivor from a pogrom, a genocidal effort to get rid of Jewish kids, because they were strangers in a strange land that no longer welcomed strangers. Elijah was a sojourner Tishbe, who spent a significant time as a fugitive; he lived for a period of time with a widow and an orphan, the desperate Biblical trio – widow & orphan & stranger. And when Jesus was born, his parents took him and fled to Egypt to escape the slaughter ordered by Herod; John’s description of his birth is that “he come to his own and his own knew him not.” The Law-giver, The Prophet, and the Messiah: three rejected strangers, conversing in heaven.

Second, the setting switches from a mountaintop to heaven and back. Heaven is home. Here on earth, we are all pilgrims, we are all strangers and sojourners, we are all guests. But home is where the Lord is, where he invites us, where he welcomes us – after we have relinquished our complaints about “trespassers.”

Third, Peter’s response to the event is to offer hospitality as well as he knows how. He wants to erect three tents – for Jesus, for Moses, and for Elijah. A tent: this is what his fore-father Abraham – another wanderer, living in a tent – first offered to his celestial visitors at Mamre. It’s shade, and it’s a good first step; if Jesus had accepted the offer, the rest of the customs would have followed: shade, then water for their feet, then food, etc. Further, in Scripture, a tent is always more than a tent. The Ark of the Covenant traveled with the Hebrews for decades across the desert, in a tent. “Tent” can be translated “sanctuary.”

Fourth, the reading overlaps with the insights into hospitality from the story of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary. Martha buzzed around doing hospitable things; Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened. Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to get to work. Jesus declined, and explained that Mary had chosen “the better part.” This was not a criticism of Martha; Martha was doing good, but Mary was doing better. So here too: Peter wants to buzz around, but the Father intervenes to encourage a deeper hospitality: “Peter! Just listen! This is beloved Son! Listen!”

The Gospel today is about many things, hospitality among them. Jesus is revealed as host in heaven, inviting us into unity with him, where the hosts and guests dwell together as one, in open-hearted and open-eared hospitality.