In todays’s Gospel Story Jesus is transfigured and his disciples get to see the fullness of who he really is. While we know what the Story tells us about the event back then, what might it be telling us about what is happening now, in our life today?
Suppose Jesus were to be transfigured before us and we were to see who he really is, what would we see? Probably we would like to see him as his disciples did — reflecting the magnificence and glory of God as we would expect God to be, which would support a lot of what we already want to believe about Jesus, and make us feel pretty good and comfortable.
But what if we were open to the possibility of being surprised? How might we see Jesus? There is a lot Jesus told his followers then, and is telling us now, that we theoretically accept but which don’t have much of an effect on how we live every day. Like, “whatever you do to the least of my people you are really doing to me”. Many of his parables talk about a merciful and loving God who creates us and loves us with a totally unconditional love. He reminds us that our Father God loves us as we are. He constantly reached out to people whom the temple system taught were untouchables and were to be avoided by their religiously observant people. He placed no restrictions on who could approach him or be in his company, while these days so many try, allegedly in his name, to restrict who can approach their version of God, as if we need to protect God from God’s own creation.
Most of us treat the Gospels in a way that supports and reinforces our belief system, our world view, and our ways of living. We look to the Gospel for answers and fish around for something that “proves” whatever point we are trying to make. We have heard the Stories many times and know what each one means because it always meant the same thing. What if we were to take the chance and try real hard just to read a Gospel Story, or even an entire Gospel, without any preconceived notions of what it says. What if we were ready to be open to the Spirit and be surprised? What if we were to see some special meaning for what is going on in our life now in our particular and personal time, place, and circumstances?
Suppose he were to appear to us as an immigrant father trying to find a safe place to take care of his family and raise his children, but is in some kind of a camp somewhere while his children in are another camp someplace else? Suppose he were to appear to us as a married gay couple or as a person trying to discover who they are genderly? Or if he were to appear as a person who for any number of reasons finds themselves being publicly condemned and denounced by religious leaders who claim to be speaking in the name of God? How about if he were to appear to us as person condemned to death? Or suppose he would be transfigured as any number of persons whom for any or no reason we just condemn and ignore. How would we handle this?
Would we be willing, or even able, to admit our role in the systems which cause the suffering of so many persons who hurt because they are not living as we think they should, or because they are asking questions that we don’t like? Do we really believe any of us are qualified to decide who can approach God in the Sacrament or any other way? So many claim to do things in Jesus’ name that Jesus did not do while he was among us. We go so far as to create our own version of Jesus who doesn’t like the same people we don’t like. Several popes have said that our commitment is not to a system but to the Person Jesus. If the transfigured Jesus were to appear in the form of any of these hurting persons what would we do? A good many of us probably would deny such a thing could ever happen.
In general we will accept any system, whether political, religious, or other, that protects and supports us, makes us feel good, safe, comfortable, and important. We see that system as good and not to be criticized, and any who do have the temerity to criticize it would have a rough way to go. A good example of this is Pope Francis who, with his vision of the church as a field hospital after battle, is trying to return the church to a focus on the Gospel instead of a code of behavior. He is facing tremendous opposition from every part of the church, especially in the United States — cardinals, bishops, pastors, ordinary folks.
Jesus dealt with this a lot during his ministry and he paid for it with his life. Walking down the mountain with his disciples he told them not to tell anybody what they had seen. Who would believe it? Maybe he knew how few would believe it because it was not who they wanted and expected him to be. It’s worth remembering that Jesus never told his followers to worship him or pray to him. He told them, and any of us who would be his followers, to imitate him. The Gospels are not to make us feel good and comfortable. They are a call to follow Jesus by living as he did, open to the Spirit always and everywhere. A legitimate question to ask is what to do? No simple thing. Just sayin. . . .
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Thank you for this writing, Father Jim, and for all you do for others. You always inspire me and remind me to see Christ in all. I’m so happy to see leaders like yourself and Pope Francis standing up for these principles. I recently attended a session with Deacon Pat Humphrey and his wife Donna and was pleased to hear some of the results of the listening sessions within the synod of synodality. Change is needed and with that many will be uncomfortable, but I’m ready to be a part of the change.
God certainly calls each of us in a unique way. Often the small are called upon to be big and the big are called upon to be small.
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