Transfiguring Experiences

Abraham hears God’s call asking him to leave his country and go to a strange place. Abraham, a symbol of faith, will be blessed because he has heeded God’s call. Land and offspring are biblical symbols of prosperity and blessedness. In the Gospel, Jesus, hearing the compelling call from God, will head up to Jerusalem where his fidelity to God will be tested to the ultimate.

Paul encourages us:

Bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

He saved us and called us to a holy life,
not according to our works
but according to his own design

God is also calling us forth. God strengthens us to bear pour share of “hardship for the gospel.” And bear it we must if we stand up for counter-cultural Gospel values. Advocating for the least among us will put us on the road to Jerusalem. Calling on us not to look for results and the fetishism of results, Merton reminds us that are call is to faithfulness to the Gospel—faithfulness in obedience to the call of God like Abraham and Jesus. It is not our works; it is God’s design—God’s plan unfolding.

Matthew 17:1-9 recounts the transfiguration. In order to understand the message, we need to set the account in context. The transfiguration follows the second call to discipleship and thus tells the dense disciples to listen to what Jesus is saying as he sets his face toward Jerusalem. When they come down from the mountain, things are not going well in Mark’s account.  The religious leaders and the crowd are buzzing when they come down. Jesus’ disciples have not been able to cast pout a demon. Moses encountered impious dancing and celebrations. Jesus encountered the scribes and frustrated disciples who could not cast out a demon. So much for the flash of glory on the mountain. It is back to life in the trenches in the ongoing battle with the religious authorities. How often we are challenged after a peak experience!

However, in Matthew’s sanitized account—it would not look good for the disciples if they could not cast out a demon—which was later than Mark, Jesus simple hears the father’s appeal and casts out the demon.

There are two mandates in Matthew’s account—“Hear my beloved Son” and “Do not tell anyone.” When we heed God’s commands, we need not tell anyone. Like Francis of Assisi we preach but use words only when absolutely necessary. Jesus simply demonstrated the healing power that comers from a life lived in obedience to God.

The transfiguration is meant to affirm Jesus’ mission. He is firmly grounded in the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). Peter is so dazzled that he wants to institutionalize this peak experience. Trying to capture such moments in time is like trying to catch fog in a bottle.

Peak  mystical experiences—direct encounters with the divine—are designed to reaffirm our life commitments, to enable us to see things more clearly and change our lives accordingly. Thomas Merton, bringing together time and space, called peak experiences “spots in time.” Merton had spots in time through his restless search for God. The icons of the Christ in the churches in Rome represent an early experience of God. Another experience occurred at a church in Havana. The most noteworthy spot in time was the epiphany at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville. Merton, the one who sought relief in monastic solitude, suddenly realized his solidarity with all people. He understood that he loved them. He saw them walking to and fro during the day shining like stars. The statues of the Buddhas in Asia during his final days represent the final spot in time for him.

What are your spots in time? We all have them. We have times when we dazzle and glow. We have spots in time and we have times when we cannot cast out the demons which keep us from loving God and other people. We need to relish our spots in time, listen to Jesus and learn what he expects of us. Discipleship is obedience, listening to the call of God awakening us to risen life now.



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