He thought quietly while staring at a blank sheet of paper, “half the year is through (sigh)”. “Gone, disappeared, vanquished”. He knew that from the reading Mt 17:1-9 as it always occurs halfway through the year as if it were the fulcrum of a seesaw. Oddly, he pondered, the story is also halfway through Mat’s gospel. He had passed the halfway point through life years back. Short, fat, bald and old; he was now an elder and at what point had life changed? When did he become the elder, the presbyter? He had studied some Greek in his youth, he knew presbyteros translates elder and the root presbys bluntly screams old man. At some point his life had changed. Mat’s passage had reminded him of that, and he needed something to say. He needed to write something before tomorrow morning. A deadline was looming.
The story was well-known, Jesus and a couple close disciples climb a mountain. On the top of that mountain Peter James and John had witnessed something about Jesus. The scripture stated “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” He was transfigured, but what did that mean? And then the story mentions Moses and Elijah. And then the voice from the cloud “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”
That last line spoke of an epiphany, God often spoke from clouds in the Old Testament. It was a cloud that led the Israelites on their exodus journey. Epiphanies are divine revelations and at that moment those disciples got a glimpse of the truth of that Jesus they had followed. Interesting but there must be more. Moses certainly was an important figure, they had followed Jesus as the Hebrews had followed Moses. Elijah the fiery prophet that urged a king to return to the God of Israel. For certain those disciples saw the Christ as prophet. The tent indicated they wished to remain stagnant, but scripture stated the LORD commanded them not to. That mountain top was not a journey complete. Scratching that bald head he pondered on how to shed light on a testament that was clear as day. His brow became furrowed, and his face red. His pencil lightly grazed the paper, its marks were more doodles than sentences.
Staring at that paper he thought, the transfiguration did not end at that mountain top, it was a point on a journey. A milestone, a shift of the teeter-tot. This, then that. The location is important. A moment when divinity was revealed. The tent hinted stability, they also hinted the feast of the tabernacle. Sukkot. The festival of booths. It is not just a moment when they witnessed the divine, it was a moment when they let the divine enter them. It was not simply the clouds that opened, so did their souls. They were not simply witnesses, but participants. And then the journey down. Like the seesaw they change directions, they go back to where they are from. A furrowed brow becomes a grimaced smile. Things are taking shape he thought.
On that journey down the mountain, were the disciples about to become the presbys? Elders? Certainly one can’t forget the timeline, time has a tendency to sneak up on people. At least that is what the short, fat, bald and old guy thought. Transfigured in the wrong direction (youth to old), but what of those disciples. They had walked with Christ for a while, and how did that walk influence them. Did they walk differently, or talk differently? How were they transfigured? The message on the mountaintop tells they saw something life changing. How did their life change? Was the change visible? Scratching his scalp he had to think yes. The old don’t act like the young. They look and act differently, and that is easy to notice. The disciples looked and acted differently too. They had to, and people must have noticed. Their manners must have changed, what they valued must have shifted. As they walked with Christ, they became like him? An analogy he pondered. A face illuminated? A spark to a bonfire? Young to old? A few quick scribbles on the paper about a thought to develop later. Fat fingers fidgeted with pencil and paper as he scrawled his text.
The grumpy, fat and bald and old man thought “of course those disciples had changed” such changes are expected to take place. No one expects a student to remain a student forever, eventually they take on the characteristics of the Master. If they don’t they are flunkies! Peter James and John are not flunkies! But if they changed what does that mean, what happened when they leave that mountain top.
“Sure, they changed” he scribbled on that piece of paper but did the world around them? There is the point. They changed, but the world did not. Their reception? A scratch of the chin, what does history say? History starts with the crucifixion, and continues with martyrdom. For certain they were changed, but there still were challenges to face. More than they knew. The world would not embrace their new-found discovery. Do they move forward or go back. Time moves in one direction, opinions and emotions teeter totter. To move forward with Christ is to walk into an opposition. For Christians, it isn’t Christ that changes. It’s the Christians that change, in fact they are commanded to. The command Jesus gave was “follow me” and to truly follow Him is to be transfigured. To follow him is to be changed. To follow Him is to become Christian and that changes ones appearance and demeanor. To follow Him is to confront an opponent.
A soft grumbling of the fat bald and red-faced old man could be heard as he put down the pencil and leaned back. Arm’s crossed and with his smuggest smile, he found a way to explain something that already was clear as day. He knew it was time for his reward ; couple of cookies and a small glass of milk. Sure his scalp and circumference and age suggested whiskey and cigar, but he had other ideas. Go figure.
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Dn 7:9-10, 13-14
Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9
2 Pt 1:16-19