“‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.” The disciples’ fear immediately follows the command to “listen to him” that issues forth from the voice in the clouds. In Matthew’s gospel, the passage that comes just prior to the transfiguration may help us to understand the fear of the disciples. In Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus first predicts to his disciples the suffering and death that await him in Jerusalem. Peter in turn rebukes Jesus for even suggesting such a thing, to which Jesus chastises Peter harshly, even calling him Satan. Then Jesus offers the paradox of discipleship to those who would follow him: “Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Earlier in the transfiguration passage when Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, Peter is excited to be a witness atop this mountain to such a momentous event. But even as Peter is speaking, the voice from the bright cloud interrupts, reminding him and the other disciples of what is most important — they must listen to Jesus. Their minds are thrown back to the words Jesus had just spoken to them — words of his death and their own fate if they choose to follow him!
The center of Christian life is discipleship. Discipleship means following and imitating Jesus in thought, word and especially in action. Like Jesus 2,000 years ago, our discipleship means confronting and resisting unjust systems — be they economic, political, or other. It means confronting and resisting unjust authorities — be they political or religious leaders. And it means accepting the consequences that the powers and principalities of this world will bring upon anyone who does not allow “business as usual” (economic injustice, racial stereotyping, unbridled consumerism, violent entertainment, destruction of the environment by mega-corporations, etc.) to continue.
In today’s first reading, Abraham and Sarah are commanded by God to go forth from their family and their home to a land unknown to them, encouraged only by a promise that God will bless them and the rest of the world through them. Those of us in the United States who would be disciples of Jesus are also commanded to go forth from our places of comfort and take up the cross, encouraged by the promise of the Paschal mystery — that suffering and death lead to resurrection and new life. Although we are frightened, Jesus touches us, commissions us. To us he says, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
This reflection was written by Johnny Zokovitch in the booklet published by Pax Christi USA, Rise and Do Not Be Afraid: Reflections for Lent 2002. This year’s Lenten reflection booklet, Embracing Possibilities: Reflections for Lent 2014, is available as a download for purchase from the Pax Christi USA website.