A spiritual climb to the top

13 March, 2022 2nd Sunday Lent, Year C

Mountains play an important role in the bible; often presented as sites of transcendent spiritual experiences and encounters with God. Abraham shows his willingness to sacrifice Isaac and then encounters God on a mountain (Gen 22:1-14).

God appears to Moses and speaks from the burning bush on “Horeb, the mountain of God” (Ex 3:1-2); and he encounters Elijah on the same site (1 Kings 19:8-18).  Most impressive of all is the experience of the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex 19), in which Moses ascends in a cloud to meet God.

A similar story emerges from the Christian Scriptures, where Jesus often retreats to mountains to be alone (Jn 6:15), to pray (Mt 14:23; Lk 6:12) and to teach his listeners (Mt 5:1; Mk 3:13). It was on a mountain that Jesus refuted Satan’s temptation (Mt 4:8; Lk 4:5). And in today’s gospel, Jesus ascends a mountain, is transfigured and meets Moses and Elijah (Lk 9:28-36).

In Luke’s gospel, the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus signals the start of Jesus’ final journey from Galilee to his Passion in Jerusalem (Lk 9:51-19:44).  At the end of the journey, Jesus climbs the Mount of Olives and makes preparation for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his final clash with the authorities on the Temple mount.

What is interesting about this travel narrative in Luke is that it takes place in the “in between” times, wedged between Jesus’ ministry on the “holy mountains” of Galilee and Jerusalem. Down on the plains and in the valleys, Jesus and his disciples are in unfamiliar territory. They are separated from their synagogues in the Galilean hillsides and still distant from their national shrine on Mount Zion.

Along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples are confronted by Samaritans and people who live on the margins of Jewish society, lepers, disabled beggars, tax collectors and Gentiles. Jesus welcomes, teaches and heals all whom they encounter as they pass by.

Writing for his community, Luke distinguishes between mountain-top experiences where they may encounter the divine in prayer and worship (Lk 9:28), and the lived experience of faith amidst the diversity and vagaries of their wider human society.

The spiritual writer, Eugene Peterson, sees these passages in Luke as analogous to the life of the Christian “between Sundays.” “Samaria,” Petersen writes “is the country between Galilee and Jerusalem in which we spend most of our time.” It is a place where we need to talk a language that we wouldn’t use in church; but which, nevertheless, must be informed and inspired by our retreat to the mountain on Sundays.

This line of thought reminds us of Vatican II where the Sunday Eucharist is described as the source and summit of the Christian life. This Lent, let us take time to reflect more deeply on our mountain top encounters with Jesus in the Eucharist; reflecting on how these experiences can continue to breathe new life into our encounters with the people who share our everyday lives in the “in between” times.

Ian J Elmer

© Majellan Media 2022

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