“He was transfigured before them, his clothes became dazzling white such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” It was breathtaking, other worldly. How can we imagine what ‘dazzlingly white’ really is?
Recently we have experienced in Sioux Falls early morning fog. As it lifts the sun breaks through I look out the window of the Bishops House and see the trees and all their branches rapped in snow and ice shrouded in a brilliant white that was beautiful, awesome, breathtaking, dazzling.
As I walked across the street to come to the Cathedral new snow had fallen and as I left the artificial light of the house into natural light, dazzling white enveloped me, awesome and breathtaking. These images surely pale to the sight the three Apostles were privileged to experience. They are however glimpses of what is to come in heaven if we remain faithful. It will be beautiful, breathtaking, awesome, dazzling.
Jesus in Sacred Scripture is often referred to as rabbi or teacher and he is. Do you remember your toughest teachers? I remember my English teacher in 11th grade. Her name was Miss Quiri. She was imposing physically with her hair pulled straight back into a bun so perfect one of my friends joked that even her hair was afraid to move. There was no joking in her class. As severe as she was, she cared about us. By the end of the school year we had learned what she expected us to know. I am grateful to her.
Often we hear of the necessity for tough love, confronting the realities with honesty and humility. Tough love delivered by parents or teachers or others is often fought because facing reality and our human condition is hard to accept. Yet tough love encourages us to grow in understanding and knowledge even when we think we know as much as we need to know or want to know.
In the first reading from Genesis, Abraham was put to the tough test. Was his faith and trust in God so strong that he could actually offer his son in sacrifice to the Lord? He faced the challenge likely with hesitation and wonderment but grounded in his view of God as good. He believed that God would bring something good even out of something as unfathomable as the sacrifice of his son. He lived the freedom of trusting God, not seeking to play God himself. God saved Abraham’s son – God is good – and prefigured that the sacrifice of God’s Son would bring something more than good, the death yes, but the resurrection as well for our redemption.
The disciples were to be put to the test. Jesus was about to experience his journey of suffering to the cross with the disciples following his pilgrimage. Holy Week sets forth the details. Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain to establish for them perspective for what was to come.
Peter was overcome by the awesome moment for before him were the icons of the law and the prophets, the anchor of their Jewish lives, Moses and Elijah; this powerful moment was enhanced by Jesus glorified. Let’s build tents and stay was Peter’s response. We would all want to stay. But God the Father from the cloud spoke to them. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
We are put to tough tests as well. Do we listen to him? How strong is our faith, is our trust that God will bring good even out of death or trials or crosses in our lives? Knowing the fullness of revelation by Jesus, all that happened in Jerusalem and beyond, all that the teaching of the Church enlightens for us, do we listen to Him and truly believe in the midst of our trials that he is our way and our truth and our life.
Jesus took the disciples up the mountainside to experience the Transfiguration, to give them hope as they journeyed with him to his cross and as they would face their own crosses after the resurrection. This is recorded in Sacred Scripture to offer us hope. Each of us through the Church and its sacraments is taught the reality of that hope won for us on Calvary. It does not remove the crosses, the tests of our lives, but it assures us that we can pass them, bear with them because we are not alone.
The greatest of teachers are the ones who care so much for their students that he or she suffers with them as they struggle to learn and rejoices with them as they triumph. And so it is with our great Teacher. That is why developing a personal relationship with Jesus through His Church is so important. St. Paul in the 2nd reading writes, “If Christ is with us who can be against us?” God can sometimes seem like a tough teacher but like all good teachers we are better off having experienced his tough love.
A boy constantly came home late from school with no good reason. No amount of scolding persuaded him to change his ways. Finally in desperation his father told him that the next time he came home late from school he would be given only bread and water for supper. “Is that clear?” he was asked. The boy looked straight into his father’s eyes and nodded. After a few days the boy came home even later than usual. His mother met him at the door without a word. When he came to the dinner table he saw his parents plates were filled with good food. At his place was a plate with a single slice of bread. Next to it was a glass of water. The father waited for the impact to sink in. Then he quietly took the boy’s plate with the slice of bread and placed it in front of himself and took his own plate filled with good food and placed it in front of his son. Years later the boy now grown would write: “All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.” We know what God is like by what Christ did on the cross for us.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote: “The Transfiguration reminds us that the joys sown by God in life are not finishing lines; rather they are lights he gives us during our earthly pilgrimage in order that “Jesus alone” may be our Law and his word the criterion that directs our existence.”
I pray that in the big and little challenges we may have the faith to declare Jesus alone is enough. In him is our hope. If we believe and live that, we will no longer wonder what dazzling white means, we will experience glory ourselves.