Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Transfiguration: A Sunday Rumination

     Although 2018 is a “Year B” / Gospel According to Mark year in the Catholic liturgical cycle, I’ll cite the passage from the Gospel According to Luke:

     And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.
     But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
     And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen. [Luke 9:28-36, King James Version]

     As Jesus neared Jerusalem, where he was to be condemned, to suffer, and to die, the demonstrations of His Divinity became more pronounced. Yet the Transfiguration, the event that made it utterly clear, was reserved to His Apostles, and only to three thereof. Moreover, of the three Synoptic Gospels, only Luke makes any mention of what Christ, Moses, and Elijah were talking about:

     ... and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

     Moreover, according to Mark, Peter, James, and John were puzzled by His next words to them:

     And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. [Mark 9:9-10]

     Bear in mind that according to Mark, the following had occurred only a few days previously:

     And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.
     And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.
     And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.
     And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
     But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. [Mark 8:27-33]

     Even Peter, who was to be the first Bishop of Rome, would not accept what Christ must face. If it was so unthinkable to him, then how much more so to the other Apostles?

     Some time ago I had several long discussions with other Christians about the Passion. Their position was that it was necessary for the Redemption of Mankind. I could never square that with the omnipotence of God. How could anything be “necessary” to an omnipotent Being? Surely He could redeem us all by simple ukase. To say the least, those discussions often became heightened.

     In these latter years, I’ve come to wonder if the semantics of the thing might conceal a necessity not of God but of Man. In other words, was the necessity ours? Would we have believed in Him and accepted His New Covenant as authoritative if not for the Passion and the Resurrection? We humans have always wanted more evidence of religious propositions than we’ve been given. Perhaps only the Passion and Resurrection would suffice to ignite the Christian fire sufficiently that it might enflame the world.

     There’s this, too: Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. He was capable of feeling fear, pain, loss, and sorrow. His time in the Garden of Gethsemane makes it plain that He did not relish the fate in store for him:

     And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.
     And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.
     And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
     And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. [Mark 14:32-38]

     This is a tremendously important passage, especially in combination with the ones above. Jesus feared to suffer and die. Even though He knew what He was, His human side quailed in terror from the agonies to come. No doubt those fears had been with Him for some time...which helps to explain the conversation He had with Moses and Elijah during His Transfiguration.

     If the Passion was not necessary, as we understand the word, for God, perhaps it was necessary for Man. Certainly Christ didn’t go to Golgotha for His own sake. But being divine as well as human, He would have known that for Him to suffer and die, to rise from the dead, and to be seen again among the living would be an irrefutable demonstration of the authority He wielded. And ever obedient to His Father’s will, He went to His Passion to die and be Resurrected as had been foretold.

     Religious charlatans are a well-known species. They differ in many ways, but they are united in one all-important characteristic: They do not give; they take. Indeed, they demand as much as they think they can get away with. Only he who gives, asking nothing for himself, should have any claim on the attention of a man of faith.

     Jesus of Nazareth gave more than any mere mortal would have contemplated giving in his highest moments: His life, preceded by suffering of the greatest amount and intensity the torturers of His era were able to inflict. His Passion and Resurrection made it plain that He had not come for any purpose of His own, but to point the way for fallen Man.

     We have several weeks more of Lent before us. The season, along with its culmination in the Passion and Resurrection, should be seen as indivisible. Pondered as a whole, its import rises above that of any single event narrated in the Gospels. We can see it for what it was: the greatest event in human history, the axis around which all of history will turn, until time is no more.

     May God bless and keep you all.

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