by Jim Dinn
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Genesis 12:1-4 | 2 Timothy 1:8-10 | Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus in the transfiguration account seems to the modern believer like the Jesus we encounter in the Gospel of John. It is as if his human nature becomes transparent, glowing with incandescence, revealing his divinity. Interestingly, however, Peter is depicted as totally comfortable with the radiant Jesus. In fact, he finds the touch and presence of Jesus a reassurance after the bright cloud and authoritative voice from heaven. The cloud and voice were clearly divine manifestations for Peter and he is terrified of them. The radiance of Jesus is no more than Peter expects in one who fulfills the law and the prophets, who is the long-awaited Anointed One.
Peter is prepared to honor and extend the religious experience with dwellings for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Left to his impulses, Peter might have established visible shrines to memorialize this transcendent event. It is an impulse which modern devotion can scarcely resist. We tend to return in pilgrimage to places where divine power or holiness has been previously manifested. We erect a shrine for every vision.
But the more central truth for us is that our God is not attached to real estate. The divine cloud of God’s presence hovers no longer over a holy mountain or sacred temple. Rather, it hovers over us as it hovered over Peter, to affirm the larger truth that we are the temple of the new order. In us dwells the eternal God. Over us God speaks of pleasure, not only at our baptism but in our life: “This is my beloved daughter, my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
A priest friend recently shared a recollection at the funeral Mass for his father. He recalled how his father would take him as a boy to the local hot dog stand. The only funds were the coins in his father’s pocket, and often there were not enough for the father to buy a hot dog for himself. But he would buy a hot dog and a chocolate milk for his son. Then he would sit beaming with delight, relishing the boy’s enjoyment. “And now looking back,” the priest reflected, “I realize how in those moments my father showed me the face of God. He gave me a glimpse of how God must take delight to see children enjoying creation.”
The transfiguration Gospel catches us off-guard each year. It seems out of place in Lent, especially so early in the season. The ashes are still streaked on our forehead; we have barely entered the desert. It’s like having recess during the first period of the school day. We haven’t earned it.
Maybe that’s precisely the point–God’s generosity having nothing to do with our merits. We don’t earn or achieve our transfiguration. It is God’s gratuitous undertaking. The selection from 2 Timothy reminds us: “God has saved us and has called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours…”
The call to a holy life reverberates with special force since the Second Vatican Council. It was typical in recent generations to feel that only a select minority were called to holiness. Sanctity was widely associated with clergy and religious. And a heavily hierarchical presentation of the Catholic Church made most members feel like second class citizens.
The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church is emphatic and unequivocal in its extensive section, “The Universal Call to Holiness.” “The forms and tasks of life are many but there is one holiness, which is cultivated by all who are led by God’s spirit… Accordingly, all Christians, in the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives and through all these, will grow constantly in holiness if they receive all things with faith from God’s hand and cooperate with the divine will, making manifest in their ordinary work the love which God has loved the world.” (#41)
We should place ourselves in the transfiguration scene this Lent, seeing with Peter the bright cloud overshadowing us and hearing the voice affirming our adoption and God’s delight in us. For we are the ones today that God invites to be transfigured, to be transformed and made holy. We are the ones who must live our baptismal faith commitment, not just in the rare and heady mountaintop experience, but in the daily valley experience of meeting others’ needs and trying to heal a broken world.
This reflection is from Crossroads to Easter: Lenten Reflections, 1999 by Jim Dinn, former staff member at Pax Christi USA.