19 February 2011

Abel still bears witness. . .do you?

6th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church

Think about all the ways that you can change yourself. Buy new clothes. Get a haircut. Lose weight. A little plastic surgery to perfect your already nearly perfect figure. You can learn a foreign language, or take up a hobby like stamp collecting or bungee jumping off bridges. Any change you make will be temporary; it will last only as long as you do. This includes tattoos and piercings. These changes are temporary not only b/c they are made to a mortal body—a body that will die—but also b/c the one who makes them is limited, a finite person. None of us is God, so how we alter our body or improve our mind will, of necessity, be impermanent. On our own we cannot change ourselves in ways that will last forever. However, there is one change we can make that will last forever: we can become Christ. With God's help, we can be transfigured into the sons and daughters of the Father in heaven. When Jesus transfigures in front of Peter, James, and John, we isn't just showing off or trying to overawe them. He's showing them (and us) our future, our desired end. Through him, with him, in him, we are transfigured, radically changed into men and women capable of becoming Christs for the world. 

Recall: just a day or two before Jesus transfigures, he had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” Though he gives the right answer, Peter doesn't really understand what this answer means. When Jesus tells his disciples what is destined to happen to him at the hands of his enemies, Peter balks and rebukes Jesus. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” We really don't know what Peter expected of Christ, how he imagined that Jesus' mission on earth would end. Jesus knows the prophecies and he knows how and why he will die. He tells the disciples that if they will follow him, they must pick up their cross and be prepared to suffer as he will suffer. Had he stopped there, the disciples might have run! And who would blame them? Promising persecution, torture, and death for your followers is not the best way to sell yourself as a leader. But Jesus wants his disciples (and us) to know the profound change that awaits all those who choose to follow him and do so faithfully. Rather than just tell them about this change, he shows them. 

On the mountaintop, Jesus is “transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white. . .” Moses and Elijah appear with him. They disciples are so terrified that they hardly knew what to say. As they were fumbling around for something, anything to say, a cloud appears and a voice booms out, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” If Peter and the other disciples had any doubts about how and why Jesus would suffer and die, those doubts vanished. They were to listen and learn. Jesus asks, “. . .how is it written regarding the Son of Man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt?” Before the Son of Man can achieve what he sent to us to achieve, the words of the prophets must be fulfilled. Before the dazzling white robes of transfiguration can be worn, the bloody red rags of martyrdom must be torn away. His victory for us comes through suffering, through sacrificial love. For us to follow him, to take up our cross, we too must undergo a radical change, one we can start on our own but never finish on our own. Think on the changes you can make—not just superficial changes—substantial changes, changes in how and when you choose to love, to forgive, to show mercy. Abel still bears witness to God through his sacrifice. What are you prepared to sacrifice for Christ's sake? If you will be transfigured, the only answer is “Everything.”

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