Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Brief Picture of Reality

February 24, 2013 ––Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18 / Philippians 3:17–4:1 / Luke 9:28b–36
A Brief Picture of Reality

There is an ancient tradition that the Transfiguration took place forty days before Good Friday, so today it is read in churches early in Lent. The Transfiguration always triggers in my mind the phrase, a brief picture of reality.

I often think of how the world around us understands “reality.” An acronym coined in 1982 for the computer world works great here. WYSIWYG — What You See Is What You Get –– is used to express the idea that what the user sees on the screen is what the user gets on the printer. We live in a WYSIWYG world.  People are obsessed with what is often in their immediate field of vision (either literally or in their fantasy dreams). It is believed that the world we see is the only way  to happiness, and that the big threats in life — poverty, the weakness of physical limitations, and what is assumed to be the finality of death — are the most horrific things possible.

On what basis dare anyone believe anything different than circumstantial existence? Christian Faith says the reason is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But 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 God 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 whom the Scriptures and the Church confess to be both fully human and fully God.

John wrote in his Gospel, we saw his glory (1:14). The writer to the Hebrews says that the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (1:3). Jesus told Philip, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (14:9). This theme of “glory” occurs again and again in the Scriptures. 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.... that glory came into our world in the person of Jesus Christ.

Still, those looking at him during those earthly years would have asked, if told this “man” 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. John gives a fuller image of the glory of Jesus in his Revelation:

I saw.... someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars.... His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:12-17).

This brief picture of reality helped lay a foundation for understanding the greater reality to follow in the crucifixion and resurrection. At the time of the Transfiguration Peter was confounded –– he had no idea what to think, and babbled in response. Later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he 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 honor 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. 

Yet, those who know the Gospels well remember that when Peter, James and John came down from the mountain with Jesus, the next incident was the lack of faith in the other disciples to heal a boy. Those who lived daily in the presence of the Glory every day did not see it!

Do we not too frequently live on that level? How often do we fall into the trap of thinking that the world we see is all there is –– or at least what really matters?  How often have we heard the Faith criticized because our witness is so weak?  Or maybe we’ve even asked ourselves: If Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, why isn’t there an obvious and overwhelming glory? The world’s WYSIWYG attitude is always exerting its influence.

Jesus let three of his disciples actually 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 the Apostolic Rule of Faith. Peter and John both wrote that they saw; they testified that these things are true. Then they lived — in such a contrasting way to how they previously were — so that people looking at them took notice that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

The Transfiguration calls us — warmly and powerfully invites us — to see the glory of God in a way that goes beyond the WYSIWYG attitude 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. It’s what Paul tells the Philippians in today’s Epistle: He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.... (Phlp 3:21). Those who follow Jesus will know the power of the resurrection — the glory of the Son of God, 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 and the Truth and the Life. On this day when we are reminded of the Transfiguration, I commend to you this this brief picture of reality. Jesus lets his disciples see the way things really are.

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