Today’s Gospel reading is Mark 9:2-10:
Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
It is easy to feel sorry for Peter, James and John. In today’s gospel they seem completely befuddled and confused: Jesus was talking to whom? Jesus is going to rise from the dead? This, of course, is part of Mark’s larger rhetorical goal in the gospel. We, the readers, are seeing the story from a post-resurrection perspective. We already know that Christ was crucified, descended to the dead, and on the third day was raised in glory by the Father. Mark, however, is careful to present the disciples as they were before the resurrection. They have no insight because, ultimately, the life of Jesus, indeed his very identity as the only Son of the Father, make sense only in the light of the cross and resurrection.
But how much of our pity for the disciples is tinged with condescension? In the back of our minds aren’t we pretty sure that if we had been there, we would have understood what we were seeing if Jesus was transfigured before our eyes? “Oh yes,” we say, “I already know how the story comes out. But they should have known! Jesus was making it obvious. Surely I would have been able to figure it out.” Part of the reason for our self-assurance is that we pride ourselves on perceiving the transfigured Jesus. Weekly at mass, or even daily, we receive Him under the outward appearance of bread and wine and we know that these simple items are in fact the Body of our Risen Lord. The secular world sees only a meaningless ritual, many of our separated brethren see only a symbol, but we know that we are in the presence of our Lord.
But do we really recognize Jesus transfigured in our midst? Jesus presents himself to us us daily, transformed, and we do not acknowledge him. As we go into Church do we skirt around a drunken homeless man? In Church do we avoid sitting near the person who annoys us for being too liberal, too conservative, too rigid, too causal in his/her faith? At coffee and donuts afterwards do we try not to talk to the dotty old lady, the lonely young man, the eccentric bachelor because they are just a little too weird for our comfort zones? In our political discussions do we put the blame on liberals, conservatives, Jews, blacks, gay people, arabs, illegal immigrants? Do we demonize our opponents and reduce those we fear to alien “others” who have nothing in common with us? I do, despite my best efforts, and I think you will have to admit that you do it as well.
We do not see Jesus in our midst. He has been transfigured and appears among us. By his Incarnation he shared his divinity with lowly humanity. But at the same time he accepts our weakness, our failings and our misery as his own. He is transfigured and his glory is now to appear before us in the distressing disguise of the poor, the unloved, the apparently unlovable and unforgiven. We are incorporated into the Body of Christ by baptism: as St. Augustine said,
“Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace towards us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ.”
But this gift was not reserved for some select few (which always includes ourselves). The honor of being Christ has been extended to all people, both those in the bosom of the Church and those who appear (to us) to be far away. Jesus said, “whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Mt 25:40).
We need to open our eyes more fully and see Christ transfigured in our midst, and act accordingly. Pray that this Lenten season our eyes will be opened to see the Transfigured Christ. Pray that when the Father speaks—“This is my beloved Son, listen to him”—we will hear and obey. Pray for a renewal of the grace which is freely given to us all, so that at Easter, we will more fully understand what it means to proclaim that Jesus is risen from the dead.