February 25, Transfiguration

In today’s Gospel Story (Mk 9:2-10) Jesus takes three friends up a mountain where he is transfigured before them. As with all the Gospel Stories there are both the minority and majority reports about what the Story might mean. The majority report, what the Story has always meant in general, is that Jesus’ friends got to see who he really was. It can also mean that Jesus learned who he really was and what his mission would be. On the way down the mountain he began to talk about his death and his rising from the dead, something his friends were having trouble understanding.

The minority report, what the Story can be saying to me as I prayerfully look at it, can have a different meaning for each of us, depending what is going on in our life as we read or hear it. A worthwhile question always is along the lines of, “Abba, what are you saying to me here, is there something you’re trying to teach me?”. The Story might offer insight to who Jesus is in my life, and if so I need to be ready and willing to be surprised. As he walks with me up my various mountains, my difficult times, he invites me to recognize him in unexpected people and situations. So, as Jesus’ friends began to realize in the Story, I am continually coming to learn he is not who I think he is at any given moment. As they wanted him to be a powerful messiah who would free them from Rome, I have created him to fit what I see as my own needs, to keep me comfortable and safe. So, this Story is a call to me to repent, to change how I see things, where I look for my happiness, to grow, open to the Spirit,  willing to change.

Jesus might also be asking me to hear the voice in the cloud saying to me, “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”. This is hard for me to hear. Do I even want to hear it? Or do I want to stay focused on everything I’ve done wrong? I was raised to have some sort of a “transactional” relationship with God, as somebody out there somewhere watching me and looking for any opportunity to punish me for doing or not doing something. I had to do so many things to keep this angry and fearful God happy now so I could get to heaven later after I die. And Jesus had to endure terrible sufferings because I am such a sinner. To hear God telling me I am beloved and pleasing is really a shock, so I come up with ways not to let that happen. It is easier, and maybe comfortably safer, for me to keep God at a distance so I don’t have to do much growing and changing, to keep God as an idea rather than an experience. How willing am I to recognize God in my everyday living? Through my ups and downs over the years, and some of them were terrible, I have learned that precisely there in the bad times is where God was being God in my life, in unexpected people, situations, whatever. After a while it seems to become easier. There have always been resurrections.

In the Story Jesus showing his disciples who he is was a one time affair. For me it is an ongoing experience which I can choose to accept or reject, and the same with God telling me who I am. It is also a real adventure, again, if I want it to be. It is a lot easier and safer to feel I have God all figured out than to live a life of questioning, doubting, wondering, and growing, in other words a life of faith. There is a lot of suffering going on all around me, both in the headlines and much closer to home. People are hurting, and some of this pain is being imposed by others claiming to act in the name of God who never did anything remotely like what they are doing. This is just wrong. I believe Jesus is transfigured in the persons who are suffering, but what does this mean? What about the people who are causing the suffering, especially those claiming to act in God’s name? How is Jesus transfigured in them? Is this even a valid question? Am I causing anyone to suffer because of what I do or don’t do?                       

In the Story Jesus takes his friends walking up a mountain, perhaps a symbol of making some effort. Being willing to grow may take some hard work to let go and begin to trust, to take a chance, and can be a bit frightening. Looking back to my dark days I can see many times when Jesus was saying, “Cmon, we got this”. I didn’t want to hear it, and yet it happened. I was too focused on being angry at “others”, which had become a way of life I was “comfortable” with. I felt a sense of control because I could blame others for everything that was wrong, while not accepting any responsibility myself. 

I think I had my own experience of Transfiguration recently during my heart attack while in my car in the parking lot where I live. As it began, and I was unwrapping the nitro pill, I experienced indescribable peace — “so this is how it ends . . .”, “no, this is how it begins”. I felt no sense of power or control, only a profound peace, calm, good. As Peter wanted to build tents and stay there, I would have loved to stay there in that peace. I have no idea how long I just sat. Eventually I took the nitro pill, and things happened fast after that — ER, CICU, medical procedures, wonderful people, etc. I think I am walking down the mountain with Jesus and the sense of peace is still with me,  less profound, yet very real. It’s not something that was there then, it is here now. The whole thing continues to be a life changing experience. As his friends remember what had happened and wonder what it means, these days I’m doing the same. I have no idea. It might be that transfiguration is less an event than an ongoing process to which I can consent, or not, a continual integration of all that has been in the light of a graced understanding of what is, perhaps learning more about who I am, and recognizing God being God in the ordinary every day of my life, a journey of repentance and conversion that is still evolving. Eagerly looking forward to whatever is coming. Just sayin  .  .  .  

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sheby

    A lot to think about. Never thought of it this way. Thank you for helping me to think more when I read the scriptures.

  2. Laura Kennedy

    Wow Fr. Jim! You really have something to say. I listened to your reflection on the transfiguration you shared with the Servants’ Entrance Community twice…and I continue to digest your words in a new way as I read this reflection. I often cringe listening to the Hebrew Scriptures, and am still trying to move past my childhood indoctrination of a transactional God focused on sin and punishment…and release the shame and guilt which I believe impacts my relationships, and is a hindrance to me living my best life. 
    As you said, I am beloved just as I am by God…and nothing has to change for that. Can I whole heartedly believe and own that? If God’s will for us is a relationship we work out with every choice and decision we make…am I open to slow down and live each moment with more attention and intention?  God is always calling us to grow and change…am I open to do so, and ready to be surprised?! Help me to see “God being God” in the ordinary moments of my day as I journey through Lent.
    Thank you for sharing your insights, experience, and wisdom. 

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