In the readings of today, God’s glory manifests in different circumstances and to various persons in both the Old and New Testaments. Significantly, those experiences speak to us about our personal encounters with God. These can be summed up as follows:
1. God takes us on a journey -Abram.
Abram’s experience in the scripture will always be strange for several reasons. God asks him to go forth from his home country to a land unknown to him. There is no clear explanation of what the future holds. Abram steps forth without hesitation. Today’s version, which is the beginning of the various encounters between God and Abram, reveals the promises which God put out for Abram. Even though it is a strange journey, God accompanies Abram with signs to prove his commitment and fidelity:
"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you."
God is steadfast and stays with those who travel along with him. The famous Psalm 23 v.4 says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” It doesn't sound as easy as it appears with Abram, because we may not always feel the comfort and staff of God as we embark on our journeys. It takes testing by faith, but God stays.
2. God manifests himself in suffering.
The most challenging times in our lives are moments of suffering. As is characteristic of Paul’s writing, the evangelist presents the theme of suffering to Timothy as one way to preview God’s glory. Paul would not want Christians to see faith as a buffer against the waves in human existence. Rather, taking a clue from Christ, Paul invites Christians to prepare for suffering when it shows up. The cross is the image of victory and glory. Hence, Paul enjoins us to bear our share of this hardship with the recognition of the strength provided by God. God’s grace is what we need because it provides the antidote to suffering. We find grace in the sacraments and in prayer. Grace is a product of faith whereas grace produces the desired strength to overcome those troubling moments.
3. God shows up in unfamiliar circumstances.
In the transfiguration episode, we can relate the disciples' experience with Abram’s experience for some reasons:
a. Intimacy with God: Jesus takes the three disciples Peter, James, and John on this journey. These three are known as the disciples of the inner circle, the closest friends of Jesus. They have a personal relationship with Jesus, the same way that Abram developed a personal relationship with God. God desires our intimacy. He wants to travel with us as friends would with their loved ones. God desires to stay in our hearts, that way we know him when he shows up.
b. The gospel recounts that Jesus led the disciples on a high mountain by themselves. When God takes us on a journey, he does not make the details clear. Faith demands that we travel along in trust. Either to the land that God promised to show Abram or at the mountain of transfiguration, God only revealed his plan at the end. The mystery of God’s presence can be like a puzzle. We only know what our senses reveal, but we trust in the process. The end is usually exciting for those who truly believe.
At the transfiguration, the appearance of Moses and Elijah is no coincidence. Scripture experts interpret it as the fulfillment of Jesus' mission. He is the culmination of the Law and the Prophets as represented in these two Old Testament figures.
However, I would want to imagine that the transfiguration brings together the journeys of faith as revealed in Christ. Jesus’ face shows up as the sun, his clothes become white as light, and the voice of the Father speaks. Humanity is introduced to a new dawn. The journey of faith which starts with Abram navigates through the redemption of Israel traversing the deserts of hunger and thirst. That is conveyed by the prophetic declarations announcing the arrival of the Prince of peace. It is the same journey of faith depicted in the missionary discipleship which begins in the little town of Bethlehem through the infant King and continued with the recruitment of poor fishermen of Galilee as missionaries of the gospel. All are brought together in the Son of God-made flesh for our salvation. He is the beloved Son of the Father, who speaks hope and victory in the life of believers.
Notice that Peter begins with excitement and then is afraid. Mark’s version of the transfiguration highlights, “Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, they were so frightened” (9:5-6). Peter has only experienced a glimpse of Jesus, so he knows him not in full. Jesus would discourage a half knowledge of him, rather he would want the disciples to spread the full knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
In counseling, clients are informed that it gets worse before it gets better. Jesus makes that clear to Peter who almost reverses the case here. He is excited, then becomes afraid. What story would Peter spread, the one that makes him demand that they build three tents or the excitement of seeing Moses and Elijah? Peter would need to complete the theophany. Jesus cautions them at the end of the encounter, “Do not tell the vision to anyone…” Jesus does not want Peter, James, and John to stay with the fussy, easy, comfortable, and ready-made impression of him. The real experience of his mission will happen at Gethsemane when he drinks the cup of suffering. What happens at the transfiguration is only a preview of God’s glory, his full revelation will happen on Easter Sunday.
How about this, “And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone?” Pope John Paul 11 wrote in the encyclical Fides et Ratio,
At the origin of our life of faith there is an encounter, unique in kind, which discloses a mystery hidden for long ages (cf. 1 Cor 2:7; Rom 16:25-26) but which is now revealed: “In his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will (cf. Eph 1:9), by which, through Christ, the Word made flesh, man has access to the Father in the Holy Spirit and comes to share in the divine nature”. This initiative is utterly gratuitous, moving from God to men and women in order to bring them to salvation. (no.7)
Be it in the case of Abram, Paul, Timothy, or the disciples, of Jesus, it is important to recognize that God always shows up. What is your own journey experience right now? How much do you feel God's presence in the process? Does it feel like he is not showing up? You must recognize that you are not the author of the story, God is.
God always shows up, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes, our journeys are filled with uncertainties, and at other times, fear, and curiosity. At times, we experience doubt, maybe questioning what's going on. There are moments that come with pain, hurt, and disappointment. However, there are also exciting times when happiness, joy, and peace reign. Of all that happened at the transfiguration, the disciples “saw no one else but Jesus alone.” This is important.
What do you see? How would you see Jesus alone, amidst the distractions and tribulations on your journey? God wants us to focus on the reality of Christ’s presence. Distractions come and go, but Christ remains. Our experiences may differ, but the invitation to encounter God is the same. We must hear the voice of God calling out to seek out his beloved Son, with whom God is well pleased. The truth is that God has entrusted his children to the safety of Jesus. All he demands of us is this, “listen to him."
Readings: 1st- Gen. 12:1-4; 2nd- 2 Tim. 1:8-10; Gospel- Matt. 17:1-9