Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. Our Gospel text today is the climax of Luke 9.
The chapter begins with Jesus empowering the twelve to proclaim and Gospel, heal, and exorcise. This is the primary work of the church in every age! It is at the core of what we are supposed to do, and for obvious reasons. It creates a stir. Word of this miraculous ministry spreads and the authorities catch wind of the works of Jesus and His band. Herod, the ruler, is confused by what he hears. Herod hears the speculation and asks, "Who is this I am hearing about?" He wants to see Jesus. Giving authority over demons and the power to heal? Who is this Jesus?
The triumphant twelve return, and Jesus takes them away to an isolated place, but desperate, needy people find them and quickly the crowds gather. Rather than turn them away, Jesus responds with hospitality. He teaches and heals all day. As evening approaches, the worried disciples implore Him to send the huge crowd away. Jesus says you feed them. They did not have enough to fill their own bellies, really, yet they handed it all over to Him. That is a total sacrifice. Let's do the math: Five loaves + two fish + Jesus equals 5,000 meals and a basket of leftovers for each disciple. Who is this Jesus?
Jesus raises the question of His identity with His disciples, "Who do people say I am?" They respond with the same rumors Herod has heard. He then asks, "Who do you say I am?" Peter says the Messiah. The answer, Jesus is the Messiah, takes the disciples, and us, into unexpected territory. This conquering king redefines our understanding of everything.
"I will be rejected, suffer and die," He says, "And those who would follow me will die everyday. You must lose everything for Me!" An invitation to suffering and death in companionship with Him? This is not what is supposed to happen.... Who is this Jesus?
The contemporary church is often as perplexed as Herod by the different theories of Jesus. We consciously and unconsciously reconfigure Him in the social, political or theological image which we prefer. We have made Jesus into the image and likeness of ourselves. We create our own versions, so however much we love and embrace Him, we are also part of the crowd which rejects and crucifies Him. Part of the answer to the question, Who is this Jesus is found here, in our unwillingness to let go of our own agendas and submit to His. Each of us, all of us are guilty.
The Gospel story of the Transfiguration is a reminder that what we see in Jesus is only part of the story. For one thing, we must know the Jewish Bible much better. The Gosel we read today is steeped in the past, echoing Moses' story in Exodus. That same light points to the future as well. The early church, particularly in the East, taught that the divine nature of Jesus, literally shining through His humanity, is our destiny. We are to become what He is. The Father's gift is sharing the Divine life and light and transforming us into the Sons and Daughters of God.
We, you and I, are decent folk, most of us. But really.... is Jesus our first love? Do we heal and exorcise? Do we gladly welcome the needy after a long day? Have we ever shared the last of our resources with strangers? Are we suffering persecution and death for Jesus' sake? Any of us? No, we do not, we are not. Is it because we really do not understand who Jesus is?
Who, then, is this Jesus?
God the Father tells us, "This is my Son, my chosen, listen to Him."
We come here today, not as victorious disciples, worn out from our ministry, but as humble Christian failures. We are needy and weak, sometimes working harder to deny the truth about ourselves from ourselves, then to reveal the truth about Jesus to others. Mercifully, in this we are still like the first group of disciples. Like them, we deny Jesus because we still do not know or understood Him enough.
Fear not! This is no fatal flaw. Salvation and redemption are God's plan. God offers us theosis, the divine light will fill and transform us, even now it begins.... Our efforts are required, but it is His work. We must listen to Jesus, more and more. We must obey Jesus, more and more. We must become like Jesus, more and more. But fear not, it is not all on us; the work of transformation is God's work, and it has already begun in each of us. So, trust God, seek to be what He calls you to be and cooperate with the light of God. All will be well, because He is faithful and that is why Jesus has come to the world---to save sinners!