My friends, today’s Gospel passage that I just proclaimed gives us the beautiful story of the Transfiguration. This event was a special grace given to Peter, James and John because they would later need this knowledge and the accompanying strength that it gave to truly proclaim to others, especially in times of doubt, that their friend and brother, Jesus of Nazareth, was and is, the Christ—the Anointed One, the Messiah, whom their people had so long awaited.
Peter, the impetuous one, who many of us love for that very reason, speaks with abandonment, the joy he feels in this moment: “How good it is that we are here” –a sentiment perhaps, for life in general. He further expresses his joy by wanting to make it more permanent—wanting it to last: “With your permission Master, I will erect three booths, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”
But Peter, like us, must be reminded that the time for this “more permanent joy” is not to be realized now, but must await a time, in the future, when the work of bringing justice for all is accomplished—a challenge I definitely felt as I finished reading, Subversive Habits, by Shannen Dee Williams, documenting racist treatment of black women within white Catholic orders of sisters, an action that was reflected in the general culture of our country, unfortunately.
The gift that Peter and the others received was intended to help them more effectively share Jesus’ message with the people—for them as for all others who will receive Jesus’ call to serve, it was and is, never just about the person receiving the call/gift. What the three experienced on the hillside was a theophany—Jesus’ self-revelation as God. James, John, and Peter shared something very special and with all such things for which we are not worthy, and have done nothing to deserve, as Paul speaks of in the 2nd reading today from Timothy, there comes a responsibility to use the gift for others. The three were entrusted with a special gift and Jesus’ expectation was that they would take the “good,” and use it for something even better–to draw many to follow in his path.
In the early days of my own priesthood, there were those hierarchical folks within the Church who accused me and other women priests of being after “the power,” and I could always answer truthfully that it was never about power for me personally, but about service for those who felt unserved within our Church, me included. My prayer then, and now, has been that I could always serve in this role with humility, knowing that the gift and privilege is not at all about me, or for me, alone. My hope in these disagreements with others, especially male priests, is that they would likewise shine their light of introspection upon themselves with regard to power, and strive going forward, to work with all who called to serve, for the greater good of the People of God.
You will recall from last Sunday’s homily the work of Sister Sandra Schneiders in defending her sisters in religious life against the investigations of their lives and missions in the world in 2010. She said the same to the powers-that-were, at the time, basically looking at women Religious and their lifetimes of dedication and reflection upon ministry, and the renewal asked of them by the 2nd Vatican Council, challenging the hierarchy of the Church to focus their attention upon themselves instead of upon women who were earnestly trying to live prophetic lives in the footsteps of their brother, Jesus.
This brings us to our first reading today from Genesis. Here again we see the theme of this entire Lenten Season—God’s gracious goodness lifted up for us in the exchange between God and Abram. When we see what is being asked of Abram, who will later become, Abraham, we realize that there had to have been a strong relationship already between him and God—why else would Abram be so willing without any question or argument to pick up family and basically leave all that he knows for a strange land and situation? Even so, given the already existing relationship, it couldn’t have been easy for Abram to do.
It is good for us to remember that what God asked of Abram was momentous in the culture within which he lived. A person in this culture was closely connected to family—one’s people. The place from which a person originated was seen as paramount—one didn’t leave that place lightly. God was basically asking Abram to leave his past, present, and possible future behind! And Abram said, “yes.”
This theme of God continually bestowing blessings on the Chosen People, which we really should see as all of us, is one that continues through all the readings today. Paul in his letter to Timothy speaks of this “lovingkindness” as pure gift, and as I said above, not because we have deserved or earned it. Paul uses a Greek word, to further explain this pure goodness—charis, which translates as grace. Paul then moves us into the 2nd theme for this weekend, which is, a new beginning. Through God’s magnanimous gift of Jesus we have the hope of new life.
Our humanity is raised up and made perfect by Jesus becoming one of us and it is Jesus who calls us to holiness, to being our best selves Paul tells us. Our choosing to walk in Jesus’ footsteps is the final theme for this weekend—in fact; choosing to follow Jesus is what we should always be about in our lives as Christians. It is what Sister Sandra was challenging the “accusers of wrong-doing” with regard to women religious, to look at. She and the Religious she was defending had to 1st follow the call of Jesus, even if, and especially if, doing so, went against Church law.
Coming back then to the Transfiguration, it is an event that is good for us to reflect upon on several fronts. First off, if we needed something to confirm for us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, there is much here to confirm it. Jesus, knowing the culture and beliefs of his time, would have been aware that he needed to choose a high place for such a revelation. “Location is everything,” the realtors tell us—high mountains were thought to be places where gods dwelt.
Most scholars now believe that Jesus’ purpose was indeed to reveal himself as God while he was yet on earth—to help these first believers to know truly who he was. Appearing glorified in the presence of Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, who represented the prophets, and himself, who completed the equation, of all that the people had waited for, had to have been a tremendous strengthening of faith for James, John, and Peter! Jesus shows himself to them as God incarnate.
These followers of his, clearly can’t take it all in—how could they?! Peter speaks out of his compulsive nature— “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” Yes, Peter, it is, but you can’t stay yet—this is a respite— a time away, to become solidified in what you are being called to and for. God then instructs them further— “Listen to… Jesus’ words.”
So, my friends, coming back to this time of Lent, taking the readings for today, and trying to make sense of them, we must at least come to the conclusion that times such as the 40 Days of Lent are not meant for looking down on ourselves, pounding our breasts, and feeling guilty, but more so, about realizing the gift our God has given us in Jesus—not as One sent to die for us, but One who came freely, to live for us, to show us the way. And while true that following in his footsteps, may lead to our own, “crucifixions,” as it did for him, that was never God’s intent in sending him!
With the knowledge that, “we are loved” by our Creator, rather than a God determined to have reparation for human failings, even including the death of Jesus, we will be much more strengthened and prepared to love others—to in fact use this one tool—yard stick, as it were, to measure the “rightness” of any action we ever question doing in life. Is this about love? If not, we have our answer.
Paul tells us, “Do not be ashamed…of God” and Jesus reminds us that we have nothing to fear. So Lent, then, my friends, is intended to be a special time to look at how, “each of us is” in our world—to check if our actions are, “just about us,” or are we, in addition, “about others” in our world? Amen? Amen!