Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Transfiguration of Jesus

Wherever Jesus went, a crowd always followed him. People sought Jesus out for many different reasons. Some were ill and in desperate need of healing. Some were curious and wanted to see for themselves the wonder-worker from Nazareth. Still others wanted to find some reason to discredit him and write him off as a false prophet. Whatever the reason for his popularity, one thing is clear - Jesus had a powerful attraction on the people he came in contact with.

At the same time, there were only a few who really knew him. Only a select group shared a personal friendship with Jesus. They were the ones who were not only curious about his message but willing to live out his teaching. They were the ones who were not only interested in witnessing his miracles but who understood those mighty works to be a sign that Jesus was sent by God. They were the ones who were willing to stay behind after the crowds had dispersed. They were the ones willing to follow Jesus to his death in Jerusalem. Because of their faith, Jesus chose them to be the ones who would see him in all his glory both during his earthly life and after his resurrection.

These disciples teach us a very important lesson about what it means to believe in Jesus. Unless we are willing to leave everything behind, we will never understand who Jesus really is. Jesus may be for us a teacher, a good man or an inspirational leader, but we will never know him as our Lord and God unless we give him the number one spot in our lives and our hearts. That is why so many people in Jesus' day even though they heard his words and witnessed his miracles failed to recognize who he was and believe in him. They saw, but they did not understand. They heard, but they did not believe because they were unwilling to change their lives and their way of thinking to make room for the Messiah, the Son of God. Faith makes all the difference between missing out on God's offer of salvation or enjoying a deepening friendship with Jesus Christ.

The first reading from the book of Genesis tells the story of one of the Old Testament's greatest men of faith, Abraham. When God speaks to Abraham, he is a very old man. Yet God promises that he will be the father of a great number of people, more numerous than the stars of the sky. Though it sounded impossible, Abraham put his faith in God's word. He was willing to leave his homeland and travel far away with only God's promise as his guaranty of safety and happiness. Because Abraham believed and was willing to abandon everything, he witnessed God work in powerful ways throughout his life. Without faith, Abraham would have been an old man who would have died in his homeland with no sons to continue his name. But with faith, Abraham became the father of the Jewish faith, and Christians along with Muslims consider him to be their father in faith as well. Faith made all the difference in the life of Abraham.

The gospel reading from Saint Luke is that of the transfiguration of the Jesus. Though the gospel tells us that Jesus' appearance changed, that is not exactly the case. What really happened was that Peter, James and John were witnessing the glory that Jesus already had as Son of God but that was hidden by his human nature. They were given the opportunity to see Jesus in all his glory because they already believed that he was the Son of God. What was normally hidden to their physical vision became visible because of their faith. As with Abraham, because of their faith and their willingness to leave everything behind, the glory of God revealed itself to them.

Over two thousand years since his birth, Jesus still manages to draw a crowd. Historians, sociologists and even atheists continue to be fascinated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. They pour over the Scriptures in an attempt to understand him better. Sadly, like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, many of them do so to discredit him and his teaching. However, no matter how they scrutinize the New Testament, the real Jesus in all his truth and glory eludes them because they fail to approach him with faith. They read the same words we do and the same stories we do but it fails to convince them because they are not willing to change to live up to the gospel message.

During this season of Lent, we have all committed ourselves to growing deeper in our knowledge of Jesus. If Jesus seems distant to us, if the radiance of his glory seems outside our vision, perhaps we should ask ourselves if there is some activity or bad habit in our life which is not in keeping with his teaching. Is there something in our lives which we need to abandon so that we can follow Jesus more closely? Or is there a teaching of Jesus and his Church which we find difficult to accept and which is keeping us from giving our hearts over more fully to God? If so, now is the time to offer up to God all our shortcomings and sins. Now is the time to profess our faith in the love God has for us and to turn ourselves over to his unfailing mercy. Once we do so, our faith will deepen, and the glory of God's Son will manifest itself in our lives in unmistakable ways.

Each of us has been drawn here today by the person of Jesus Christ. We have placed our faith in him not only by our words but by our actions. Because of our faith, we will witness a great miracle. Jesus will make himself present to us in the form of bread and wine. Just as he appeared in all his glory to Peter, James and John in his transfiguration, he appears now to us. The glory of this sacrament is hidden to all except those who look upon the bread and the wine with faith. Seeing, then, let us believe. Hearing, let us proclaim his marvelous deeds. And receiving him, let us bring the message of his glory to all those we meet.

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