Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Josép R. Martínez-Cubero, OHC
Last Sunday after the Epiphany- Sunday, February 11, 2018
To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.
|Br. Josép Martínez-Cubero|
It happens quite often, when speaking about prayer, that an associate, or a student, or a directee, or a guest will say something like: “I’m so busy, that I can’t find time to just sit and pray. But, I mean, I talk to God all the time. I talk to God while I’m working, while I’m exercising, while washing dishes.” Etcetera. My response is always the same: “That’s great that you talk to God all the time, but think about this. If to a loved one (spouse, child, close friend, etc.) all you do is to say: ‘I would love to spend time talking to you, but I’m so busy. Let’s talk while I’m working, while I’m exercising, while I’m washing dishes.” But you never stop, set time apart to just be with that loved one. What would that do to the relationship?
The world is very, busy, and we, in monasteries, are in no way exempt from that, but what about Jesus and his apostles? During these past weeks of Epiphany, we have walked with Jesus and the disciples through a time of very busy ministry; from his baptism in the Jordan, and the assurance of divine love: " You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased", through times of recruiting his apostles, teaching, and casting out demons. Last week, we heard Mark’s gospel story about Jesus curing Simon’s mother-in-law after preaching in the synagogues, 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 the 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 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 going up to the mountaintop to pray.
I’m sure most of you have been on a high place where on a clear day you can see for miles. The air is lighter, colors brighter, and you feel spiritually uplifted. For ages, people have believed that when you are on a high place you are actually closer to God. In fact, mountains, in ancient spiritualities, were points of contact with the divine because they were the places where earth touched heaven. There are a total of eight references in the Bible about going up a mountain, and they all have to do with seeking a special relationship with God. In Celtic spirituality, a thin place is a place we become so saturated with the presence of God that our hearts are opened, and we are transformed to our more essential selves. That is what happens at the top of that mountain in today’s gospel reading. Peter, James, and John become so saturated with the presence of God that their hearts are opened in a way they have not been opened until now. And what happens? Jesus reveals to them, in a very significant way, the intimacy he shares with the one he calls Abba. They begin to see Jesus in a different way: dazzling and intense, and all-consuming, and they can’t miss the Divine presence declaring love for the “Son”. It is tender holiness and a reminder that, love, as a characteristic of God, is participatory and shared.
And before Peter, James, and John can rub their eyes, they see that communion of Jesus with God manifested in relation not to kings or high priests but to Moses, who led people out of oppression, and Elijah, whom King Ahab considered a troublemaker for condemning Israel’s compromise between true and false gods. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus labored to help the people of God remain faithful as they were enticed by idolatrous religious ideas. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus sought to keep the people of God hopeful as they suffered the burdens of abusive political systems. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus would leave everything behind to be in communion with God, but that communion with God is not hoarded, but instead leads them to give themselves completely in love to equip others to know and pursue God.
Peter wants to freeze the moment with three dwellings. They are terrified, but he wants to contain the law, the prophets, and the gospel, to worship in a way that can be contained within the limits of the mind. He wants to memorialize this Divine presence so that nothing changes. But the journey is not over. Like Moses before him, Jesus is to set God’s people free, only this time it’s not from bondage to Pharaoh, but from bondage to fear of sin and death. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John down that mountain, into a world of illness yet to be cured, lepers that are still banned from society, and sinners who do not know they were forgiven. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John back to the unbelieving officials, to the ineffective institutions, and to the demons down below. And Peter, James, and John will witness Jesus climbing to another high place. On this mountain, Jesus is revealed in glory. On that hill, outside Jerusalem on a cross, Jesus will be revealed in shame and defeat. On this mountain, his clothes are shining white. On that hill they will have been stripped off, soldiers gambling for them. On this mountain, he is between Moses and Elijah. On that hill, he will be between two thieves. And the one who blurts: “it is good for us to be here”, will be hiding in shame after denying he even knows Jesus.
So, this gospel lesson calls us to set time apart for God, but it’s not a gospel lesson about mystical moments without the complications and pain of life. This is a gospel lesson about God, who interrupts us and says: "Listen" to Jesus, who will be leading you on that journey to Jerusalem, and the cross. “Listen” to Jesus, who is the revelation of God’s deepest nature and the deepest nature of the cosmos. This is a gospel lesson that calls us to contemplation, and then to action, to mysticism, and then to dirty hands, to prayer and then to protest, to be transformed, and then to come down the mountain into the valley of our humanity and the world around us, and to work as hard as we can to transform the world, and to bring it as close as we possibly can to the vision of God. Why? Because what God changes, God changes through us. ~¡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.)
· Bruce J. Malina, Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Fortress Press, Second Edition, 2003