|Why did Jesus Live?|
I can't believe that we've come to the Last Sunday of Epiphany already! This Epiphany is four Sundays shorter than usual because of the early date of Easter this year, but the Last Sunday of Epiphany is always the same: The account of Jesus' Transfiguration on the mountain before Peter, James, and John, who would be the "Pillars" of the early Christian communities.
The Transfiguration is an "epiphany" or manifestation of who Jesus is par excellence. The three disciples, and all of us by receiving the story, get a glimpse of the "glory" of the Lord. When we think of seeing "glory," we imagine things shining and lots of light. The story gives us that. (Also the Moses story of his face "shining" coming down the mountain after meeting with God, so much so that he put a veil over his face, except when teaching the people. The word for "shining" KRN can also be used to make the word "horn." That's why Michelangelo's famous statue of Moses has horns coming out of his head- like beams of light.)
But when it comes down to it, what is a person's "glory" if not a person's reputation: Who the person really is from the inside out. Whatever happened on that mountain confirmed for those disciples who Jesus really was. "This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to Him. They would never forget it, even when the going got rough and his reputation was smeared and mocked by the people and the political powers turned against him.
Alongside the transfigured Jesus appear two greats: Moses and Elijah. For many years I thought they appeared with Jesus simply as representatives of the Old Covenant, as members of a holy fraternity, so to speak. But in these past few years, I've been thinking that Moses and Elijah, great as they were in the role they played, weren't cut from the same cloth as Jesus. In other words they appear with Jesus more as a contrast to Him than they are like him. When the Voice says to the three disciples "Listen to Him," God really means it: God wants his disciples to Listen to Jesus. He's the One to really listen to. He's different from Moses who in anger broke the Tablets of the Law when his people were dancing around the Golden Calf: a god of their own making, breaking the First of the Commandments. Moses blew it and he knew it. Remember how he wasn't able to lead the People into the Promised Land? Joshua was given the task. And Elijah heard the Word of the Lord, but not perfectly, when after God helped him win the fire contest with the prophets of Ba'al, he had them all put to death. Idolatry and violence happened on their watch.
I couldn't believe it when one of the candidates, a professed Christian, was asked during a recent debate what he would do about ISIS. He answered, "I would carpet bomb their cities." When asked about all the people who would be killed, including woman and children, he shrugged his shoulders and said something like: Too bad, it has to be done.
Jesus, whom we follow, is cut from a different cloth. He refused to victimize others, and instead allowed himself to become a victim for the good of all men and woman, the "many," as we will pray in the Eucharistic prayer in a few minutes.
There is a "sea change" going on in Christianity today. Most of our belief as Christians has centered around the question: Why did Jesus die? We know the answer to that question: Jesus died on the Cross to save us from our sins. His death on our behalf turned away God's anger from us. We're forgiven and will be able to go to heaven when we die. Jesus left us a moral compass to keep us on this track to heaven. Morality, living righteously, figures in very heavily. Woe to the immoral among us!
But the tide is coming in and another question, seldom focused on, is growing in importance: Why did Jesus live? This is the "sea change" question we are slowing beginning to ask. Did Jesus come to foster a narrow morality, where it's easy for some to judge who are sinners and saved and who are not? Or did Jesus, by his example, teach us to love one another and live in mercy and forgiveness with every human being, yes, even if some need more mercy and forgiveness than others? Like an old prayer:
Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.
The question "Why did Jesus die?" is important, but it tempts us to focus on our "getting to heaven" and rationalizing our own acceptable moral living, and condemning, often with violence and without mercy, those who hurt us and fall under our judgement as enemies. This keeps the cycle of violence, which really is the sin Jesus came to save us from, the sin that put him to death, going. This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught his followers. This is why the other question "Why did Jesus live?" is even more important than ever. For example, one of the Gospels that we usually hear during Epiphany has Jesus' teaching:
Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. Would Jesus condone his followers doing violence against their enemies? You attack us and we will smash you!
When St. Paul talks about the "veil" of Moses in the context of the early Christian community in his day, he's talking about a "veil of ignorance" which is lifted when a person believes in the Lord Jesus, a faith modeled after the virtues of Christ's life. This is what Paul means by being "in Christ," not so much a mystical state (as we've often thought), but more an "Imitatio Christi," an imitation and following of Jesus' example that will bring about the Kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven."
There are so many voices calling out to us these days. It is so easy to get caught up with the voices of the crowds, especially when they are reacting in fear and self interest. There are leaders in our day who claim to hear the Word of the Lord, but like Moses and Elijah, not with perfect hearing. So the take away for me, and hopefully each of us, the Good News this Sunday of the Transfiguration, is to "Listen to Jesus." Listen carefully to Jesus in the Gospels and discern Jesus' and the Father's will. We too, like Moses and Elijah, will not hear perfectly, but let us err on the side of love, mercy, and forgiveness toward all our sisters and brothers. This is why Jesus lived.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE
(everyone means everyone)