Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Brief Picture of Reality

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, which always triggers in my mind the phrase “a brief picture of reality.”

I often think of things the world around us presents as “reality.” We live in a WYSIWYG world — What You See Is What You Get. People are obsessed with circumstantial pleasure, convinced that is the way to happiness, and the big threats in life — the weakness of poverty and physical limitations and what is assumed to be the finality of death — are thought to be the most horrific things possible.

On what basis dare anyone believe anything different? Christian Faith says the reason is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But yet again, how can a “modern mind” dare believe this is true? The Transfiguration offers a single picture of the bigger truth.

When Jesus was on earth, what people saw when they looked upon the Incarnate Son of Man was.... a man. Sometimes they saw Him do some amazing things, but He was still a man who dressed like them, ate like them, walked the roads and paths like them.... a man who the Scriptures and the Church confess to be fully human.

Yet Christian Faith came to recognize, as John wrote, we have seen his glory. The writer to the Hebrews says that the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. This theme recurs again and again in the NT. The glory that covered Adam and Eve at the beginning, the glory that came down on Mt. Sinai and caused Moses’ face to shine, the glory that inhabited the Tabernacle and the Temple, and the glory promised by the Isaiah and Ezekiel came into our world in the person of Jesus Christ.

Still, those looking at Him during those earthly years would have asked (if explicitly told this was the glory of God): Where? How? In a WYSIWYG world, Jesus was — even though engaging, puzzling, commanding, divisive and exasperating — just another man.

But one day — one time on one particular day — three of the disciples had their WYSIWYG world expanded. Peter, James and John saw His glory as he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. This “brief picture of reality” helped lay a foundation for understanding the greater reality to follow in the crucifixion and resurrection. Peter gave this clear witness and exhortation in his second letter:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Those who know the Gospels well remember that when Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountain, the next incident was the lack of faith in the other disciples to heal a boy. Those who lived in the presence of the Glory every day were unable to act on that reality.

Do we not too frequently live on that level? How often have we heard the question (or asked it ourselves): If Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, why isn’t there an obvious and overwhelming glory? It is a question sparked by a WYSIWYG world.

Jesus let three of His disciples see His glory once during those ministry days. It was enough to pave the way for a Faith that would change the world. We can believe today because there is a credible eyewitness record that has been established as an Apostolic Rule of Faith. Peter and John both wrote that they saw.... and they testified that these things are true.... and then they lived — in such a contrasting way to who they previously were — so that people looking at them took notice that they had been with Jesus.

The Transfiguration calls us — warmly and powerfully invites us — to “see” the glory of God in a way that goes beyond the WYSIWYG existence of the world-spirit.

The glories of this world do not last. The threats of this world do not have the last word. There is a glory promised to all who follow Jesus.... a glory that was fully realized in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who follow Jesus will know the power of the resurrection — the glory of the Son which is the inheritance of all who belong to Him — but not apart from, first, the cross with the accompanying darkness of not having everything yet fully visible. Christians live in the hope of glory, knowing that Jesus is the way. On this Transfiguration Day we remember this glimpse — a brief picture of reality.

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