Sunday's Gospel invites us to consider how we can change our own and other's lives
By Tony Staley
Sunday's liturgy will transport us to one of the most mysterious
and fascinating incidents described in the Gospels: the
Transfiguration of Jesus (Mk 9:2-10). As is the case with
Scripture, this story presents us a challenge and an opportunity
to apply it to our own lives.
Mark - as well as Matthew and Luke - tells us that Jesus led
Peter, James and John up a high mountain. Once there, his clothes
became brilliantly white as he talked with Elijah and Moses.
Peter - always a man of action - was so overwhelmed by the
experience that he was almost - but not quite - speechless. He
proposed to Jesus that they build three booths or tents on the
site. Then a cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud
said, "This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to him." Suddenly, the
three disciples were alone with Jesus, who cautioned them not to
say anything about it until after he had risen from the dead.
I remember this story clearly from my childhood. It contains
everything we could ask: mystery, the unexpected, a spectacular
setting, apparitions, a voice from a cloud. Plus, unlike many of
Jesus' parables, he doesn't explain it.
One problem we face when reading the Gospels is that, unlike the
disciples, we know the whole story of Jesus' life, how it ends
and his resurrection from the dead. The only surprises for us
tend to be the awe we feel as we ponder it all and we discover
something we missed on earlier readings.
But for me, the Transfiguration is different. I don't know what
age I was when this story first registered on my consciousness,
but it was early enough that I hadn't made all the connections
about who Jesus really was that would come in later years. So
that aura of mystery remains for me. It's as though I'm still
trying to figure out how the magician saws the woman in half.
Even more important than what happened at the Transfiguration is
what it means and what difference it makes to us.
First, a transfiguration is a change or transformation. Jesus was
changed in the eyes of his disciples. If they had any doubts that
there was something profoundly different about him, the
Transfiguration erased them. He was on speaking terms with both
Elijah and Moses. And, in an echo of the baptism of Jesus - which
the disciples weren't at, but probably had heard about - a voice
from the heavens called him "my beloved son." If that weren't
enough, Jesus gives them something else to think about when he
says that he will rise from the dead.
Lent invites us to transform our selves - or as Bp. Robert Banks
said in his column last week, Lent calls us to re-form our lives,
to "reshape the way we think ... [to] put faith in Jesus at the
center of our thinking and our lives."
Thus, Lent has more to do with walking a mile each day for the
rest of our lives than it does with running a marathon. That is,
as difficult as it may be to go for 40 days without tasting
candy, cigarettes or alcohol, or to avoid fights with spouse,
parents or siblings or to practice a particular devotion, Lent is
not really about that. Lent doesn't mean running either a
once-in-a-lifetime endurance race or running that race every
year. Rather, we are called to exercise every day by making
life-long changes and re-defining ourselves in a way that brings
us closer to how God intends to us live.
And, just as the Transfiguration of Jesus affected both him and
the disciples who witnessed the event, we are called to transform
others. We can do that through words of encouragement, by being a
mentor, by good example, by going to bat for someone who needs
help or by practicing the corporal acts of mercy. When it comes
to helping others, we are limited only by the barriers we place
on ourselves. During Lent, we are encouraged to push those
barriers back and to extend ourselves a little more - and then to
do it again - and again.
Being a witness to the Transfiguration means making this story
part of our lives. When we do that, we embrace the mystery of
God. And that is truly magical.