While reading Matthew’s gospel, my childhood reflections regarding the Transfiguration event interfered with my thoughts. I had a great idea when I sat down to write a few minutes ago, only to have it whisked away by decades old memories that seem to be going nowhere. What was I thinking back then?
From the time I began to pay attention, probably in fourth grade or so, whenever I heard the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, Peter’s, James’ and John’s reactions puzzled me. Good Catholic child that I was, I knew a good deal about saints of all kinds. I was certain that those who reported visions or hearing the voices of Jesus and Mary found the inspiration to do good deeds and to live perfect lives in these encounters. I convinced myself that if I ever heard or saw anything or anyone from heaven, I, too, would live the life of a saint from that moment on.
Since the disciples were privileged to walk, talk and live with Jesus day after day, in my young mind I determined that they should have been the most perfect saints of all. Yet, weeks after hearing the Transfiguration gospel during Lent each year, the Passion followed. The events that led to Jesus’ death left me heartbroken. I found myself overwhelmed because the disciples had forgotten Jesus and deserted him in an effort to save themselves. Sadly, I experienced hopelessness to the extent that a child can. After all, if the disciples who knew Jesus personally failed him, how could I hope to do any better?
Fortunately, my religious development did not end in fourth grade. During the years that followed, I recognized that Peter, James and John were not alone in their trepidation during Jesus’ suffering. Jesus himself appeared to them in the glory of heaven with Moses and Elijah at his side. Jesus heard with them as God’s voice proclaimed, “This is my beloved son…” Jesus also spent countless hours in prayer nurturing his relationship with his Father. Nonetheless, in the hours before he was taken into custody, Jesus wept and perspired blood as he begged his Father to take this cup from him. In the end, I realized that the disciples did the best they could at the time. After all, they were only human. In the end, I found that Jesus did the best he could as well. Because he became one of us, Jesus experienced his passion in human terms. Because he is God, Jesus offered this final lesson in love to illustrate the extent of God’s love for us all.
This Lent, I am compelled to acknowledge all that Jesus did for me in human terms. The scriptures tell us that Jesus suffered crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Historians provide the grisly details of this horrendous death. Jesus was scourged with a whip, likely made of leather straps with pieces of metal tied to the ends. Most men of the time endured less than ten strikes. Jesus endured thirty. The soldiers crowned Jesus with a ring of thorns. Later, they forced Jesus to carry the beam of the cross which rested upon bleeding muscle because much of Jesus’ skin had been torn away. The road to Calvary lacked smooth pavement. Each time Jesus fell, dirt, pebbles and manure likely made their way into his wounds. By the time Jesus stretched out his arms to be nailed to the cross, his physical agony was beyond unbearable. It is no wonder that my childhood hope evaporated at the foot of the cross. Today, it is no wonder that my adult faith, hope and love flourish at the feet of our God-made-man.
My childhood piety prevented me from focusing upon the lifetime through which Jesus found the strength to endure his passion and death. In all he said and did as he walked among the people, Jesus revealed God’s love. If we take to heart the compassion evident in Jesus’ healing and forgiveness, if we take to heart Jesus’ overriding concern for the poor, the heartbroken and those ostracized from the rest of society, and if we take to heart the promise of heaven offered in the miracle of the Transfiguration, we must also take to heart the love expressed in each of these events. As we continue our journeys through Lent, we cannot ignore what I missed as a child –that Jesus did what he did to convince us that we are loved and that we are called to love one another as best we can.
This Lent, our work is simple: to find ways to put aside our own needs, to attend to one another’s needs and to attend to God. Jesus lived and died for each one of us. It is up to us to return Jesus’ favor in kind.
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