Deacon Cornellís Homily


Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Philippians 3:17—4:1
Luke 9:28b-36


February 27-28, 2010, Second Sunday in Lent- Cycle C

I have always struggled with the story of the Transfiguration. The usual reason given is that Jesus wanted to shore up their faith so that it could withstand the coming test off Jesus' passion. That presents a problem in itself to me. If that was really the reason, it didn't work so well, did it? Peter, James and John didn't stick around any more than the others who were not brought up the mountain. Also, why would Jesus single out Peter, James, and John? Did they need more support than the others? Had they done anything more than the others so that they deserved to witness the transfiguration? But the really big question for me is why God doesn't just do something like the Transfiguration, on the evening news, or at half time during the Super Bowl, so that the whole world will know that God really exists? Or if God isn't into global miracles, maybe you or I could witness a Transfiguration-like miracle so at least our faith would be unshakeable?

There are some commentators that suggest a different way of looking at the Transfiguration. They suggest that Jesus' glory was always present but others could not see it because of the layer of sin and disbelief that clouded their vision. For a moment Peter, Andrew, and John were able to change their perspective so that they were then able to see this glory, and hear the voice of the Father. Maybe it was the combination of the witnessing of the feeding of the 5,000, or reflecting on Jesus' question to them about who they thought he really was, and then his revelation that he must suffer and die, combined with the physical exertion of climbing the mountain with Jesus. In any case, for that brief moment as they awoke from deep sleep, they were able to see Jesus as he always is, in his divine glory.

This makes much more sense to me. It is such a human trait to think that we are seeing reality when in fact most of it escapes us. Everything we perceive is done so through filters that emphasize some aspects of the reality, de-emphasize others, and completely hide others. My wife Betsy and I were out in San Diego this past week visiting our 3 youngest grandchildren. On a couple of the evenings we watched Shrek 1 and 2 with them. At so many levels that movie illustrated how easy it is for different people to watch the same thing and see very different realities. Like most of the successful children's movies recently, the Shrek movies have adult themes that go right over the kids' heads but that make it interesting for parents (and grandparents) to watch. The main theme of the the Shrek movies is how people can have the wrong impression about someone because of the preconceived attitude they have. Their filters give them a very skewed understanding of others. And then there were little references to experiences that children just would not have, like the nod to the beach scene in From Here to Eternity in the second Shrek film.

Our brains are built to "see" reality through filters that shape, and often, distort the reality in front of us. It is so hard to see things differently because very often we first have to let go of established ways of thinking in order to see things more clearly. I am not just talking about carefully crafted children's movies. We saw this in a very fundamental way in physics over the past 100 years. For more than 3 centuries, Newton's idea of how the world worked conditioned scientists to look at the world in a certain way. When Albert Einstein was able to put those ideas aside and see that things actually worked differently, that space and time and mass were not object quantities of objects but were relative to the viewer, most scientists could not accept it because it meant their older way of thinking had been wrong. Even Einstein in his last years refused to let go of the Newtonian idea of determinism; he could not accept the experiments that showed that there was a randomness to certain aspects of physics. So he died thinking that the new quantum physics would be proven wrong. Today our understanding of the reality of our physical world is based on things that cannot be experienced with our senses. Science today is not very different from theology.

The disciples and most of the other people who lived with Jesus could not see Jesus as the Messiah because they were conditioned to expect the Messiah to be a military or political ruler. They could not see the divine glory in Jesus because their filters hid any notion that God could become human.

Even in our everyday life we experience this blindness to what is right in front of us. We are conditioned by our culture, and even our religion, and our sinful nature so that we just do not see the world around us the way God does. We are blind to the evidence that the kingdom of God is at hand. How differently saints like Mother Theresa must see the world. When she said that she saw Christ in each of the sick and dying that she cared for, I used to hear that as just a figure of speech. But I suggest that she really did see Christ; each enc0unter with the lowest of society was like the Transfiguration to her.

Lent is a time for us personally and as a community, a church, to try to open our eyes to the divine glory that fills our world. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God is at hand. It has already entered into our lives but we cannot it see it most of the time because of our filters. The traditional lenten practices of fasting, praying and almsgiving are proven ways to help us strip away the blinders that prevent us from seeing things the way God sees them.

Today's readings of the Transfiguration and the mystic vision of Abraham in our first readng were not caused by God singling out Abraham and Peter and Andrew and John for special religious experiences; Abraham and Peter and Andrew and Kuhn were able to have those experiences because they had opened themselves to God in faith. Each of us can have the same experiences if we are willing to work on letting go of the attitudes and preconceptions that we have developed from our culture and our human nature in need of salvation. Fasting allows us to see that we do not have to live by food alone. God has given us spiritual nourishment that can let us see more clearly that reality is so much more than what we can prove or measure with our senses. Prayer focuses our attention on realities beyond what we see with just our senses, and in turn that frame of mind lets our senses experience a reality we often miss. And almsgiving, especially in our culture which values possessions so highly, lets us experience the world as love sees it.

So let us enter into this season of Lent with determination and enthusiasm, knowing that fasting, praying, and increased acts of charity can open our eyes and hearts so that we too can see Jesus in his divine glory; we can see the evidence that kingdom of God is at hand. Then along with Peter we can say, "It is good for us to be here."


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