“The Family of God: From the Mountain to the People”
August 6, 2017
The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Genesis 12: 1 - 4a/ Psalm 33: 4-5; 18-22/
2 Timothy 1: 8b-10/Matthew 17: 1 – 9
Bishop Ariel Cornerlio P. Santos
Today is the Feast of Transfiguration. As far as we are concerned, we need to understand Jesus, His being transfigured. Hebrews 1:3 says that He is the radiance of God's glory, and the exact representation of His nature. He is the perfect image of God.
We are told that the Old Testament is a shadow revelation of God, the imperfect revelation of God, an incomplete revelation of God. However, Jesus is the clear revelation; the final Word. Our Christmas song says, “Some had failed to understand it, so God sent His final Word.” Jesus is the period to who God is. Do you want to know who the Father is? Look at Jesus. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father.
In the story of the Transfiguration, there appeared Moses and Elijah on either side of Jesus. They represented the Old Testaments Scriptures – Moses and the prophets. After a while, they disappeared and then Jesus was left alone. He is the only exact representation of the Father. If you have questions about God the Father, look at Jesus. He is the radiance of His glory.
The Scriptures point to Jesus; He is the Word of God. The Word of God is not literature, but a Person. You cannot be experts about the literature about the Word of God, Who is a Person, and miss Him. One theologian said they treated the Scriptures to put God in, instead of an arrow pointing to Him. They were guilty of bibliolatry. Jesus told them, “You search the Scriptures, and you talk about Me, you miss the whole point of the Scriptures.” May we not fall into that same trap.
Jesus is the glory of the Father, and that glory in Him is eternal, 24/7 – not random or momentary. It wasn’t that Jesus only was transfigured on the mountain. I believe that Jesus is always transfigured, but the disciples were given grace to momentarily and fully see the glory of God in Jesus Christ. We can take advantage of this where that to us, we see Jesus transfigured every time. It is not just bits and pieces of revelation or glory there, and we forget Him the rest of the day. The glory is eternal, and it is not even talking about a visual, unapproachable light, but it is what Hebrews says where Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature. His glory is not just a glorious sight; His glory is the likeness of God. It is the radiance of His glory, of His character – the Father’s nature and His likeness.
John 1:14 says that we have seen His glory – glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. The gospel also says of a people sitting in darkness that saw a great light, not in a brownout place where Jesus is the light. No, they were sitting in spiritual darkness and drought, and here comes the glory of God, His nature in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is what Jesus and the three apostles experienced on the mountain, which is our first step. We first need to have an encounter with God in the person of Jesus. This is why we gather around the Table. This is an encounter. This is not just a sacrament that we forget as soon as we step out of the Church. The first step is a transfiguration encounter with God.
We have heard many people say that the worship at the Cathedral of the King is glorious and awesome and they feel the presence of God there. Somebody said that our worship can be described in two words: glory and Hallelujah. The thing is that, we, unlike Peter, should not have an attitude of, “Let us just stay here.” It is good that we are here, and that we enjoy the fullness of God, but we are not meant to stay on the mountain or to stay within the four walls of the Church. We are meant to go down to the people from the mountain, bringing with us the experience, the glory that we have seen, and taking that glory and that light to the people sitting in darkness. There are lots of people still sitting in darkness, and Jesus is sending us as light to them.
Jesus said that He is present in those who are imprisoned, to those who are naked, to those who are sick or to those who are hungry. If we say that in the presence of the Lord is fullness of joy, and He is in the Church, we are right; but Jesus also insists that He is present in the needy, and He wants us to experience the fullness of joy of His presence in the needy people. It is not just in the comfort of a nice Church, and in the company of our brothers and sisters. This is why God the Father told the disciples, "Listen to Him,” because Jesus says, “As much as you do this to the least of My brothers, you have done it to Me. I want you to experience the joy of ministering to the least, the lost and the lonely.” When we do minister to these people, we experience the joy of the presence of the Lord because He is present in them. This is what we need to listen to. Jesus wants us to taste and see the fullness of joy in ministering to the least of Jesus’ brothers. Many times, we don’t see His presence in these situations. What we say is that we don’t want to be bothered.
It is a complex issue about the refugees. I don’t know if we can blame certain states for not receiving refugees because of security or they are life threatening. As Christians, we shouldn’t say, “We don’t like to be bothered. We can’t divide our bread with you. You will upset our economy if you come to us.” It doesn’t change the fact that they are still needy, that they are still persecuted, and that they still need to be clothed, to be ministered to, and they are still the least of Jesus’ brothers. There are people who need the ministry of the Church, and we should not be like the Pharisees with the thinking that needy are in that situation because of sin in their life, and that it is the judgment of the Lord and we don’t want to have anything to do with them.
In the story of the blind man that Jesus and His disciples saw in John 9, what may be in the mind of the people is that if a person has a sickness, maybe there is sin in their life. They asked Jesus, “Master, who sinned? Is it his person or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responded to them, “It is not that he or his parents sinned, but this is so that the works of God can be displayed through him.” We don’t need to judge the situation. God is the Judge, not us, and what we do is show the works of God in any situation because this is the purpose God brings some situations in front of us in the first place.
In one episode of CSI Las Vegas, there was a death on the plane in the First Class section. There was this passenger who was nice, but after thirty minutes into the flight, he started behaving badly. He would pace up and down the aisles, kick the back of the seat in front of him, he would bother the stewardess, and he would fight with the other passengers. It came to a point that he was banging the cockpit door, and he went to the exit where he was trying to open the door. This was a threat to the life of the passengers. What the others passengers did was to gang up on him, and he died.
The passengers did not know that the passenger had encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, and the pain was so bad to a point of losing one’s mind and that he could not control himself. Those investigating the incident had different opinions about the situation, but one said, “If only one person had put himself in the shoes of this guy, and ask what is his problem, then death could have been avoided.”
This is what Jesus did for us. Jesus was in heaven, in the glory of His Father, and He created man very good, but he fell. Jesus did not have an attitude of saying, “You sinned, so it is up to you. You will die because you disobeyed.” Jesus thought was otherwise, “It doesn’t matter whether they sinned or their parents sinned. This is so that the glory of God can be seen out of this.” Jesus put Himself in our shoes. More than empathy, it is incarnation. He became one of us and experienced what we experienced. He felt what we feel. He went through what we go through.
What we are called to do is to emphatize, and not just stay on the mountain. Jesus could have said, “I don’t have to go down. It is not My fault.” We can say to God the Father, “We will just build tabernacles, and it is so nice here,” but Jesus said, “Go down from this mountain.” Instead of basking in His presence, we are to go down and minister to those who are in need. Instead of asking for our needs and protecting and securing our needs, have the attitude which was in Jesus Christ – He stripped Himself so that the needy came first.
From the story of Elijah and the widow, it would appear cruel for a man of God to ask a dying widow and her son to serve him food first. It turned out that he was not being cruel, but being kind. The widow did not just have flour and oil, but eternal life. May we not seek to be understood, but to seek to understand. Maybe somebody needs more understanding that us. Maybe, we need shoes, but maybe, there are people who don’t have feet.
This is why we collected offerings for the installation of our new Primate. Do we have a need? Yes, we do, but we honor the man of God first. No need to evaluate who has the more need. We take the glory of the Divine nature from the mountain, and we bring it down to the people. Transfiguration is not just a sightseeing trip, but a vision casting session.
There is a reason why God wants us to behold the glory of God in Christ. Not so we can have a beautiful sight, but so that something is impressed on us, and then it becomes a vision that we can run with. We take it down with us from the mountain. There is a big difference between sight and vision. Helen Keller said, “The worst kind of blindness is a lack of vision.”
We can see the feeding of the five thousand and not gain insight. This is what happened to the disciples. Jesus was not impressing on the people that He could perform miracles, but rather, He was impressing on them, in them something. It was a vision that He wants the people to take from the wilderness, from the mountain to those how are in need.
Transfiguration is not just a sight to be seen, but a vision to be grasped. It is not just a sight to delight in, but a vision to run with. We are not to stay on the mountain, but we are to go from here. Again, the first step is to have that experience and assimilate the glory of God. We must be transfigured first ourselves, and have that genuine encounter with God.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” but He also did say in Matthew 5, “You are the light of the world. The reason I am present in you is so that you can have the light of the world and take to the world where there is darkness.”
After communion, we pray, “Send out now into the world.” Now that we had our encounter, our transfiguration experience, send us now into the world. The Eucharist is a sacrament that is a visible sign of an inward or invisible grace. The elements are raised and are visible to us. After we have received them, now, it is invisible again and we assimilate that which we seen in our bodies, which themselves are visible. Now, we become the visible sign. Now, we become the sacrament. Now, as Jesus is light, now, we are the light, and we go from here. We don’t stay here and say, “Take me out of the dark.” We say, “Send us out into the world, into the dark, because this is the vision of Transfiguration.” The visuals are gone, now, we are the visuals; now, we are the sacrament.
Our Epiphany song says, “Manifest on mountain height, shining in resplendent light, where disciples filled with awe, Thy transfigured glory saw. When from there (from the mountain) Thou leddest them steadfast to Jerusalem, cross and Easter Day attest God in man made manifest.” This is our mission. Coming down from the mountain is nothing foreign to Jesus. This is not new to Him; He even came down from heaven in an act called kenosis in Greek.
This is the example of our King. This is the attitude that we should have, and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.