Br. Josép R. Martínez-Cubero,OHC
The Transfiguration- Sunday, August 6, 2017
|Br. Josép R. Martínez-Cubero, OHC|
Among the ministries I will be engaged in this fall, is directing a fundraising production of “The Curious Savage”, a wonderful play by the late American playwright John Patrick, at Saint George’s Episcopal Church in Newburgh. A few weeks ago, once I was finished planning the rehearsal schedule, I met with our prior (who had enthusiastically approved of this ministry) to let him know when I would have to be absent from the monastery.
We have learned from the rabbis that, the Sabbath exists because God desired us to have rest. Taking Sabbath allows us time to evaluate our work as God evaluated God's work, to see if our work was equally good. Sabbath is a gift from God that gives us time to reflect on the meaning of life. Sabbath is resting time, and thinking time designed to change us, so that we can then change the world.
One of the most common themes about the problems of modern society is busyness. The world is very, very busy, and we, in monasteries, are in no way protected from this. But Jesus and his apostles were incredibly busy, too. In Luke’s gospel, before the section we heard this morning, Jesus and his apostles had been through all the neighboring villages preaching, and curing diseases. They had dealt with, and fed thousands of people.
Mark’s gospel tells us that after a whole day of preaching in the synagogues, Jesus cures Simon’s mother-in-law, to then come out of the house to what is described as the whole city bringing people sick with various diseases to him. Later on in that gospel we see Jesus so exhausted, that he is sound asleep in a boat in the middle of a storm at sea. It is clear that Jesus and his apostles were very busy. It is also clear that Jesus would do to leave all the demands of his ministry behind to go to desolate places and pray. Our gospel lesson this morning is about such an occasion- Jesus taking time off with Peter, James, and John, leaving the demands of the anxious crowds behind, and taking Sabbath time up on the mountain to pray.
Mountains, in Greek, Hebrew, Roman and Asian religious literature, were always places where the human could touch the divine. In Celtic Christian tradition, there are times and places when and where the distance between heaven and earth evaporates so that the boundary separating them becomes permeable, like a veil that is parted. The Celts call these thin places, times and places we become so saturated with the presence of God that our hearts are opened, and we are transformed to our more essential selves. Today’s gospel reading describes such a time and place.
When Jesus prayed up on that mountain, the disciples couldn’t miss the Divine presence, and before they could rub their eyes, alongside Jesus, were Moses and Elijah in the present, as if time were a veil to be parted and stepped through. Peter wanted to freeze the moment so that nothing would slip away. “Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” The dwellings he proposed were tents, the same used during the Jewish Festival of Booths, a celebration that remembers the past wanderings through the wilderness during the exodus.
Peter wanted to celebrate the past, and to memorialize this Divine presence so that nothing would change. I must confess that I identify with Peter. When I experience those “thin places” in my life, when the presence of God is so powerful that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is good for me to be there, the first thing I want to do is grab my camera, to freeze time so that nothing will change. But as Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about his departure, a word translated from the original Greek as “exodus.” They spoke of this exodus, not as something that would happen to him, something Jesus would accomplish. God was revealing a larger story that was not over. Like Moses before him, Jesus was to set God’s people free, only this time it was not from bondage to pharaoh, but from bondage to their own fear of sin and death.
The journey Peter wanted to memorialize was not over. And before Peter, James and John knew it Jesus was taking them down that mountain, into a world of illness yet to be cured, lepers that were still banned from society, and sinners who did not know they were forgiven. Jesus took Peter, James, and John back to the unbelieving officials, to the ineffective institutions, and to the demons down below.
This is not a gospel lesson about transcending the world. It is a story about God, who interrupts us and says: "Listen" to Jesus, and calls us to be transformed so that we can transform the world. This gospel lesson calls us to Sabbath, to become enlightened, and to come into an awareness of life. That is what Saint Irenaeus of Lyons was talking about when he said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive”. Just as we are transformed in those thin places, we are called to participate in the continuing story, to come down the mountain into the valley of our humanity and the world around us, and bring it as close as we possibly can to the vision of God. Why? Well, scripture is very clear. What God changes, God changes through us, and we can’t achieve this by freezing a moment, but by taking up our cross, and following Christ with the confidence that what lies ahead is even greater than what we’ve already experienced. ~¡Que así sea! Amen+.
- Marcus J. Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (Harper Collins, 1998)
- Sandra Schneiders, IHM, Buying the Field: Catholic Religious Life in Mission to the World (Paulist Press, 2013)
- Joan Chittister, OSB, 30 Good Minutes: The Role of Religion in Today’s Society (Transcribed and edited from program first aired on November 24, 1991.)
- Barbara Brown Taylor, Dazzling Darkness: Luke 9:28-36, (The Christian Century, February, 1998)
- Bruce J. Malina, Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Fortress Press, Second Edition, 2003