by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, March 2, 2014:
First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm: Psalm 2
Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 99
Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
Here we are at Transfiguration Sunday again. We celebrate this festival on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, although the earlier festival day was August 6.
It's such a familiar story that we may feel that we can get nothing new from it. But it's a story that bears repeating.
When I read the Gospel again, I'm not surprised by Peter's offer to build booths and celebrate the Transfiguration in a commercial way. Christ's command to tell no one makes me pause. Why can't we share this amazing moment?
Christ says this often. Go and tell no one--that seems to be a constant command. And it seems antithetical to the task of the Church.
In just a few months, we'll get a very different Pentecost message. Aren't we supposed to go and witness? Spread the good news? If Jesus is our role model, what do we make of his command to stay silent?
In some ways, perhaps Jesus knew the times he lived in. He knew that early fame would undo his purpose. He knew that people would focus on the physical plane--"This man can heal my blindness"--but not the spiritual plane, the one where we need healing the most.
He also knew that people who see visions, who catch a glimpse of something otherworldly, are often shunned by the community. What would have happened if James and John and Peter came down from the mountain and proclaimed what they had seen? How would the community have responded?
Jesus knew that he couldn't appear too threatening to the status quo too early. In the verses that follow, the ones not included in this Gospel, Jesus makes clear that persecution follows those who see visions. And that persecution still persists today. Our culture tolerates those of us who pray. It's less tolerant of those of us who claim that God replies to our prayers.
The life of the believer is tough, and one measure of its difficulty is knowing when to speak, and knowing when to hold our tongues. Sometimes we should keep our counsel. Sometimes we should testify verbally. Always we should let our lives be our testimony.
Christ also might have been wary of the human tendency to rush towards transfiguration. We yearn to be different, but so often, we shun the hard work involved. We might embrace transformation before we stop to consider the cost.
Like Peter, we might want to turn Christ into Carnival: build booths, charge admission, harness holiness. Jesus reminds us again and again that the true work comes not from telling people what we’ve seen, but by letting what we’ve seen change the way that we live. Our true calling is not to be carnival barker, but to get on with the work of repair and building of the communities in which we find ourselves.