Reflection for Sunday – August 6, 2023
Readings: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1: 16-19; Matthew 17: 1-9
Preacher: Cathy Kamp
Who among us likes to hear that change is coming? No matter how predictable or inevitable a change in life circumstances might be, we most often seem to be caught off guard. Whether it’s welcome and positive news like a new job or a new relationship or difficult news like job loss or a breakup, change can cause upheaval and angst for us and those around us. We might question our own judgment, decision-making and coping abilities; others might challenge our judgment, especially if they perceive a change for us requires them to adapt in some way. Why can’t everything just stay the same?
Imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus predicted that he would be killed and would rise again on the third day. The disciples wanted to continue following Jesus, learning from him, ministering with him. In the 16th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus also told them that discipleship would involve denying themselves and taking up the cross. They could not possibly understand what all of that meant, but they certainly understood it would mean unwelcome change for themselves and suffering for Jesus, too.
Just six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. Despite the supernatural event of Jesus being transfigured before them, revealing his divinity as he conversed with Moses and Elijah, for three ordinary fishermen, this encounter was a welcome relief from Jesus talking about suffering, death, and resurrection. While they could not possibly comprehend the Transfiguration event either, Peter proclaims, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” (Translation: See, you don’t have to suffer! And we don’t have to change!) Peter was so delighted with this turn of events that he suggested they all stay. He offered to pitch three tents so that they could continue to bask in this glorious mountaintop experience with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
No sooner was Peter making these more pleasing plans than God the Father intervenes in the form of a mysterious voice coming from a cloud casting a dark shadow. God announces that Jesus is his beloved Son. God also gives the command: “Listen to him.”
Why do you think it is so important for God the Father to tell the disciples to listen to Jesus, their teacher and friend? Remember, Jesus had started talking about things they did not want to hear. Jesus was preparing for the inevitability of the Passion; the disciples wanted none of it. You can just imagine what would happen as Jesus’ suffering drew near. Everyone would have an opinion and something to say. Some would tell the disciples to distance themselves from Jesus; others would expect them to be loyal and fearless; and still others might say they could prevent the inevitable. God is telling them that only one voice matters, the voice of his beloved Son.
So much for the disciples feeling at ease and comforted! Now they are frightened and fall to the ground, trying to understand not only the Transfiguration event but God’s message to them.
As he does so many other times in the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples, “… do not be afraid.” But the full sentence Jesus speaks this time is “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Jesus did not want them to take comfort from this spectacular event for the purpose of setting up camp and turning inward. There was work to be done, not only while Jesus was still with them but in how they would carry out the mission after Jesus’ earthly existence was done.
While the disciples may still have stumbled and had infamous moments of denial and doubt, they were transformed, and they went forward. Ultimately, with the gift of the Spirit, they would plant seeds of Christianity throughout the world, making it possible more than 2,000 years later for us to practice our Catholic faith.
Like the disciples, our most life-giving transformations often grow out of times of change in our lives, especially when we place ourselves in the loving arms of our Lord and listen to God. When we trust that we need not be afraid, that God is with us, and that God responds to us in prayer, then we have all we need to live our best lives as missioned disciples of Jesus. We can embrace change no matter how surprising or how unwelcome, not just for ourselves but also for those we love. Together, we can follow the two transforming commands of the Transfiguration encounter: “Listen to him,” and “Rise, do not be afraid.”