The Rule of
March 8, 2020, Second Sunday of Lent
Our homily today is sponsored by the number “3”.
I am sure many of you have seen the commercial that is currently out for the GMC SUV’s. It goes like this: “The rule of three states that things that come in 3’s are inherently more appealing than things that don’t. We couldn’t agree more.” Then it shows the Yukon, Acadia, and Terrain. Then it concludes: “3 SUV’s, one GMC.”
In the Bible the number plays an important role. Some famous numbers would be 3, 12, 24, 144,000, and let’s not forget 666. The number 3 plays a very significant role. The number 3 is mentioned all through the Bible.
Just to name a few: in the Old Testament there are three archangels mentioned by name: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. St. Matthew writes, “for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”. St. John writes, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are in agreement.
Today’s Gospel has several three’s. Jesus takes three disciples, Peter, James and John up the mountain. There Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah to form another threesome. Finally Peter suggests that they build three tents to preserve this wonderful moment.
The theme of three is so obvious in Matthew’s Gospel that we might think of his entire Gospel as the “tale of three mountains”.
The first mountain is the one from which Jesus proclaims the famous Sermon on the Mount which includes the beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the two great commandments. It is this first mountain that sets up the great project: Living in accord with what God wants of us.
The second mountain in Matthew’s Gospel is the one we heard about today: the Mountain of Transfiguration. But this seems misplaced, shouldn’t it be at the end of the story? But there is logic to its placement. In folk tales and legends, the hero often receives help along the way from some “supernatural figure”—Like a good fairy, an elf, the good witch of the north. There seems to be a similar pattern at work in our story. Having challenged the disciples with his sermon on the mount, Jesus reinforces their faith in him by allowing a glimpse of his true identity. It’s as if he realized that the disciples would not be able to face what is to come without some special assistance at this point of the journey.
As soon and the disciples descended the Mount of Transfiguration, their attention is directed to another mount – the place of Jesus’ death. The third mount then is Mount Calvary.
Jesus makes it clear that all three mountains are interconnected. You cannot climb one mountain without climbing all three. Someone once said that “the immature person wants to die nobly for a cause while the mature person wants to live humbly for one.” The Sermon on the Mount bids us to live humbly; the Transfiguration on the Mount gives us the vision of the final outcome; while Mount Calvary reminds us of the ultimate cost of following Jesus.
In conclusion, the mountain motif we have been considering offers us a summary of Matthew’s message: Jesus proposes a way of life; He makes it clear that living that way is not easy, bringing suffering and even death; but the outcome is glorious. The three mountains of Matthew pretty much say it all: life, death, and ultimate glory with the ultimate big three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
The Lord said to Abram...I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.
2 Timothy 1:8b–10
He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us.
And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.