Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jesus' Transfiguration: Hope for When Life Gives Us "Too Much."

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, 
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
 And he was transfigured before them; 
his face shone like the sun 
and his clothes became white as light (Matthew. 17:1-9).

I recently spoke to a man going through a very difficult, trying, and even tragic set of life circumstances, most of which he was enduring to no fault of his own. He shared that, when he approached other Christians looking for support, he was told by one or more, "the Lord doesn't give you more than what you can handle." Do you ever wonder where they grow people like this? It's bad enough that this man is in deep pain without having to have a fellow Christian do them the favor of suggesting God has ordained that they go through this or is even responsible for it! Such a naive, dismissive "pious platitude" overlooks the obvious fact that life and God ARE NOT one and the same (a "pious platitude" is a stock phrase that is often the equivalent of saying "I don't want to hear about it" but is used instead as a pious gloss to make the person saying it appear to be reverent when in fact they're not!). Granted, GOD may not give us more than we can handle, but MANY people can attest to the fact that LIFE at times sure as heck does!

Jesus' Transfiguration in today's Gospel gives us some insight into a reason to hope when life gives us too much. Prior to this extraordinary event in Jesus' life, he has come into the awareness that the storm clouds are gathering in the distant horizon and that he is likely going to meet with a very cruel and tragic fate. In a word, life, and NOT GOD is about to give him more than he can handle (anyone who thinks that crucifixion isn't more than a person can handle, raise your hand! Ok, now, for those raising your hand, go to the end of Matthew's Gospel, 27:46, when Jesus shouts the guttural cry from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?". Sounds like someone who is a little overwhelmed, no?). However, what does God do for Jesus on the Mountain in today's Gospel? He doesn't promise to "transform" Jesus' destiny, but to "transfigure" it. There is an incredibly important nuance between one and the other.

To transform something is to change it completely and essentially. To transfigure has more the slight, nuanced connotation of changing the appearance or, in this case, the meaning of something. What may very well be going on in the transfiguration event is a symbol and sign of the hope that, while life is certainly about to dish out more than Jesus can handle in crucifixion, God will, in fact, make these circumstances the very thing that constitutes eternal life. In other words, Jesus' crucifixion as a total gift of self and love to the point of death will not end in wholesale abandonment by God but will become the very path to eternal life. Why is this a sign or symbol of hope for us? What it means is that there is nothing that we can experience in our lives, no matter how painful or tragic, that is beyond the Lord's capacity to use as a means through which our own lives are transfigured in God's love. Pat, TOR


cowboypapist said...

Thank you for this wonderful and inspirational commentary on today's reading. It is helpful more than I can find words to express. Thank you, and God bless you!

Regina said...

I cannot tell you HOW many times I've not only heard this from others when life pummeled me with lemons, but also, how many times I told myself this as a way to "not deal" with the underlying implications of some of my own personal tragedies. This is one of my favorite blog entries thus far. Keep up the blogging - you have a God-given gift meant to be shared. Truly inspirational....