February 17, 2008


Lord, it is good that we are here. – Mt. 17: 4

This story has as much to do with what it means to be a disciple as it does with Jesus’ identity. The disciples ascend the mountain & the cloud descends upon them: the divine & the human connect. Fear is an all too common reaction is such situations. When we realize we are in over our heads, we get nervous. When we realize we are in WAY over our heads we become frightened.

Our Lord’s role is to lead them beyond fear into love. In addition to the familiar affirmation, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” comes a command: “Listen to him.” This is no easy task since what he has to say is often difficult to understand & when we do understand it, difficult to swallow. In particular, they have not been able to grasp all His talk about suffering, death & resurrection. They had heard Him, as we so often do, without any real comprehension.

The vision, then, was not an end in itself, but a stimulus to help them overcome their resistance to what Jesus has been trying to tell them. Their – & our – limited way of thinking can only change if they – & we – learn to genuinely listen to Him.

Premeditated self-sacrifice, in contrast to the spontaneous kind that occurs on the battlefield or in an emergency, demands much more of us than fuzzy feelings or humanitarian impulse can supply.

I’m convinced that the only thing that can make it possible is love. Parents can do it because they love their children. But what about total strangers, or people we find distasteful? That presents a real challenge.

Life is difficult because we continually face physical, mental & social challenges. This is especially true when we try to bring to already messy situations our best instincts. It takes continual creative effort to suffuse situations with compassion, peace & honesty. Virtue is hard work.

When we decide to make the best of life, in particular a moral difficulty, we rely on sheer will power generated by determination. In short, it is all up to us & that can be notoriously inadequate. However, if we can connect with the divine in what may be called illumination, then our work becomes a joint enterprise, a cooperative effort with grace. The wind will no longer be in our face but at our back, & we will be able to rise without fear & listen to Him. We sometimes call this “a mountain top experience.”

Peter is right: the transfiguration experience is good for them, & by extension, for us. Such spiritual experiences are resources & encouragements to stay committed to the Christian struggle. If life in general is difficult, our Lord’s way of moral & spiritual transformation is even more difficult. The point is not to hold on to such experiences, but to listen to them & let them guide us through the difficulties to come. Don’t forget, this happened just prior to our Lord’s Passion. Totally unprepared souls would have been devastated. Will we when the time comes? AMEN!