There are a few occasions every year when I attend a fancy banquet. As I sit down I then nervously look at my table setting. There are big and small plates, soup and salad bowls, innumerable pieces of cutlery and a water glass placed in the perfect spot to make me uncertain whose glass it is. My nervousness is a result of my anxiety - I want to appear as if I know the proper etiquette and rules to such fancy eating. And so, I wait until someone else dives in and then I just do what they do. We are often concerned about doing what everyone expects. We follow the rules of proper decorum in an effort not to stand out, not to have fingers pointed in our direction. We want to appear as if fit in, as if we know the “secret handshake.” In this Sunday’s Gospel, we are presented with just such a situation, of what we think is proper in our relationship with God, and how the Lord reconfigures it through his Transfiguration.
Jesus was transfigured before three of the Apostles, namely, Peter, James and John. In his Transfiguration, the Lord revealed to them his full person, that is, perfectly human and perfectly divine. He showed them that he is not merely a carpenter, not merely a wise teacher but he is God. As the fulfillment of the law and Prophets, Moses and Elijah appear with him. We know that Peter offers to build three dwellings, one for Christ and two for Moses and Elijah. In mid-sentence, however, a cloud descended and overshadowed them. From within the cloud, they heard the voice of God the Father proclaim, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” At this, they were overcome by fear and “fell to the ground.” The Lord then touched them and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
The reaction of the three Apostles was correct, it was proper decorum. The presence of the cloud is meant to show that God is present. And when God is present in God’s power and majesty, it is not business as usual. God told Moses to remove Moses’ shoes when in his presence. The Shepherds were terrified when God was present in the plain outside Bethlehem. As creatures, it seems that we must not look upon the Creator, that we must retain a necessary and respectful distance, and that we must only pay homage and offer worship. The result of our proper decorum, of doing what we think is expected, is that, if you will, God remains there and we remain here. The Lord, however, touches the Apostles, and tells them to stand up and not to be afraid.
When he touches the Apostles, and tells them to stand up and not to be afraid, the Lord reconfigures our relationship with him, that is, with God. We want to show that we fit in, that we know what we’re supposed to do. We retain a distance between ourselves and God. It seems only “fitting and proper.” And yet, it isn’t God’s priority, it isn’t God’s will or desire. The Lord touched the Apostles, and told them to stand and not to be afraid. He has shown us God’s will and desire – not that we keep our distance, but rather that we open ourselves up to him, that we simply allow ourselves to be loved by God. We are overwhelmed by the anxiety of fitting in, gnawed by the doubt of its impossibility. God, however, is overwhelmed by love of his children, of us. In the Transfiguration, God is showing us that we fit in because God has made it so. God has made us his beloved children in whom God delights. Indeed, as Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
God Bless and Take Care! - Fr John
Image - The Transfiguration, 1603, painted by Franz Fallenter