21 February 2016
Genesis 15. 5-12, 17-18
Philippians 3.17 – 4.1
Some time ago an elderly man was telling me that during his university years he began to lose interest in practicing his Catholic faith, in which he had been raised. During his studies, he still prayed but not much. He felt that religion had little to offer him. One night on his way home in a bus from the university he had a vision. It came totally unexpectedly, out of the blue. He felt he was surrounded by God’s love. As he looked around him at the other passengers in the bus he felt convinced that they were truly his brothers and sisters and felt totally at one with them. On leaving the bus this incredible experience vanished never to return. But it had a profound effect on his life. He started to attend Mass regularly, prayed daily and got involved in charitable activities. He said he often wished the experience would return as it was so powerful and life transforming for him but it never did.
He reminds me very much of the experience of the three disciples on the mountaintop with Jesus in today’s gospel. When Jesus took the three disciples with him as he went up the mountain to pray he was transformed or transfigured. It is important to note that it was while he was at prayer that this happened. If we commit ourselves to pray often to know and do God’s will, little by little we will find ourselves being transformed too. It seems that Jesus is saying that everyone has this potential in his or her lives of being transfigured too, provided we pray and seek to work for God’s kingdom here on earth.
The three disciples saw that Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah. It is important to realise that they were talking to Jesus about his exodus or passing which would involve great suffering and finally his death on the cross. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that our homeland is in heaven, that here we have no lasting city. Whilst Moses, Elijah and Jesus were talking about his exodus or passing, it also implies an exodus for us, a letting go or departure from everything which prevents us from living in full communion with God and with all others. This exodus is going to involve painful and unavoidable aspects of suffering and struggles for us in life as it did for Peter, aspects which we would like to avoid at all costs. Peter wanted to escape. Peter is mistaken. We cannot stop on the way as we follow Jesus. We cannot put down roots or seek refuge in a tent. Peter wanted to stay on the mountaintop with that incredible experience of seeing Jesus transfigured. How many of us want to live ‘in our good times’ and don’t want to go back to the drudgery and difficulties that are part and parcel of our daily life. It is the same for Abraham in the first reading. God is asking Abraham to leave the safe world he knows. The faith rooted in Abraham’s heart makes him accept the adventure or challenge. He leaves where he was in order to enter a far better inheritance not only for himself but also for his descendents – the Promised Land that God would give them. But they did not see it then. They had to trust God would be faithful and would fulfill his promise fully later.
When Jesus went down the mountain with his disciples they immediately returned to the ups and downs of ordinary life. This is what Peter wished to avoid by staying on the mountaintop. The episode of the Transfiguration reminds us that our being Christians has to be lived in the midst of the ups and downs of daily life. We all have our own personal experiences of how difficult life can be. We know that we may have to face sickness, unemployment, being misunderstood, the sudden death of a loved one etc. God is no less with us at these times though it is harder to see and be aware of this. However, even if we are promised the fullness of the kingdom after we die, it has already here if we respond to God’s call.
We need to remember that Jesus fully entered into our human experience. Like us he experienced joy and good times with his family and friends. But he also suffered greatly, experienced rejection, betrayal by those whom he chose, the disciples. Yet he did not run up the mountain again or use his divinity to avoid any of this. He knows us fully from the inside. He shared our human struggles to the very last. He was not doing this just to give example. He was fully human and lived his humanity fully and all it involved.
How did he survive? How did he get through all these trials? Though he was in the world, he was not of the world insofar that he did not take on the values of the world which he knew would not lead to lasting peace and joy. He was faithful to his father’s promise. This meant that he repeatedly disengaged himself from the noise of the crowd to be alone in prayer with his Father. The disciples realised the importance of prayer for Jesus because he often went apart to pray. Can it be any different for us if we want to follow Jesus closely and deepen our relationship with Him, the Father and Holy Spirit?
‘Heavenly Father, give us the powerful Holy Spirit to teach us how to pray and to give time to prayer often. Help us to really listen to Jesus as you commanded the disciples when you spoke to them in the cloud on the mountaintop. Amen’
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA