To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 12:1-4; 2 Tim 1:8-10; Mt 17:1-9
There is a common thread which runs through all three readings of today. All of them speak of grace given freely and without reserve.
This gift of grace is promised to Abram in the promise of a new land, descendants sufficient to people a great nation and participation in God’s life. Abram becomes the means through which God’s saving grace will bless all the families of the earth. God takes the initiative and his gratuitousness alone is responsible for this. Abram has done nothing to achieve this blessing. What Abram (noble father) will become – Abraham (father of a multitude) is the result of God’s grace and not Abram’s effort.
This point is reiterated by Paul in the second reading of today in which he states that the grace in Christ was given freely before the beginning of time, and further, it has been revealed in its fullness in the coming of Jesus. In Christ, this grace takes the form not merely of new land and progeny, but of new life in his victory over death itself and the proclamation of immortality. It is revealed to the three disciples Peter. James and John and to all others who dare to go up to the mountain, in the transfigured body of Jesus.
Thus, in Jesus, we are promised even more than was promised to Abram. We are offered the gift of life and victory over death as the early disciples, and we are being invited into the presence of the same glory as that seen by Peter, James and John.
Three enormous offers of grace are given freely and in abundance … and we hear them as we have heard them so many times before and hardly pay heed. Grace? Free? What is it that keeps us from grabbing this offer wholeheartedly? Do we not trust it? Do we think it is too simple or too naive? Is it that we don’t know what’s good for us? One would think that if we were given a choice between something good and something bad we would choose the good. But there is a mysterious streak in our nature so that given the choice between life and death we often settle for the easy familiarity of death rather than the risky joys of really living.
We find ourselves always in a mixture of life and death. Some things in us are thriving, are growing, and are bearing fruit. Some things in us are drooping, are fading, and are shriveling up. And for some reason we get mesmerized by death and let life pass us by. We seem to think that death is more real than life, more to be trusted, more fitting for us. But the words of Paul do not allow us to do that: “He (Christ Jesus) abolished death, and he has proclaimed life and immortality through the Good News”. It is thus a matter of life and death.
It is Abram, seventy-five years old and childless, who sets out on what seems at first glance as a ridiculous journey to a new land, new family, and new life. Timothy knows only too well that the promise of life is made in the middle of hardships that the gospel entails. And Jesus stands on a mountain top, glowing with glory, alive as no one had ever been before, precisely between prophesies of his death. The same Jesus who will, at the end of his life, go to his death and in it and through it finds life for us all. On the mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus trusted life and trusted what God was doing for him.
Peter, James and John realized on the mountain that they were dealing with a reality that reached beyond human experience. They were dealing not merely with a social reformer or a political visionary; they were dealing with a man who had a unique relationship with God. The intensity of that relation was obvious to all on the mountain.
The people of Israel were permitted to experience a new through the faith of Abram. “The challenge of Christian faith is to accept and live a sustaining relationship with God in the most trying circumstances of Jesus, but they also heard a voice from heaven that applies that dimension to them: “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.” The implication is that anyone who forms a relationship with God’s Son will one day share in the transfiguration of God’s Son. The good news is good news for the whole human race, not reserved for the elite few. So the apostles had to come down from the mountain with Jesus. As much as they may have wanted, they could not stay there.
If we are to be transfigured by his message we must do strange and sometimes painful things indeed: like forgiving our enemies and praying for those who we think have hurt us, maintaining hope in a world that sometimes seems hopeless, turning the other cheek not as an act of cowardice but courage, giving generously to those in need even from the little we have, and so on. This is where the shadow of the cross intrudes in a practical way.The message learned on the mountain must be lived in the valleys. Through living his message we are being gradually transfigured. But we must leave the choosing of that day to him. Our challenge is to remain with Christ on whatever mountain, or in whatever valley, we find ourselves. Because we are assured that he will be there waiting for us.