thinking theology

Transfiguration 2017

This year, there is an NFB film nominated for an Oscar, even though it has immigrant tendencies. “Blind Vaysha” by Theodore Ushey is a short animation about a girl who is born with one eye that can only see the past and the other eye that can only see the future. The vision from each eye immobilizes her decision-making, and her inability to see in the present makes it almost impossible to get around or participate in life. The film asks the question, “Are we all sometimes Vaysha?”

blindvayshaOn this Transfiguration Sunday, I want to suggest that that perspective, whether it is time or expectation, can prevent us from seeing what is before our eyes, and, even when we do, we can misinterpret the moment because of our own assumptions. In the gospel passage, Matthew 17:1-9, we have traditionally made the same assumptions as Peter and the other apostles.

While Jesus is praying, the apostles, probably gossiping amongst themselves about what strange thing their rabbi was doing now, suddenly see him in a new light. They see him in the tradition of Moses and Elijah; they see him not just as an eccentric albeit compelling teacher, but as the messiah, the one to carry Israel’s future. In a moment, their eyes are opened to him as a person who has more weight than they had appreciated, more power and holiness than they had understood. They see him connected intimately with the Holy One.

Their response is to make a stone altar to memorialize the moment. But Jesus is having none of it. He does not talk with them about what has transpired. Indeed, for him, nothing may be different. He walks in the same intimate conversation with the Maker, locked together in compassion and sorrow for all people who suffer, bound in the same passion for justice and abundant life for all.

Every now and then in history, other people have caught this vision of Jesus, but routinely they want to remember it in stone and mortar, in doctrines and rules. Where does this glorious vision of Jesus belong then? I think it began in Mary’s womb, in love and obedience and passion. It began in the very human heart that beat in Jesus’ breast, and in history, it ended in sacrificial love and trust.

Hearts and bodies are made of flesh not stone; hope is made from faith, not paper law or arbitrary boundaries. I think of all those refugees crossing from the USA into Canada, freezing hands and feet to achieve freedom and safety. I think of the RCMP officers who see a child not an undocumented stranger.

In the story of the transfiguration, we are challenged to see the Jesus not of our own assumptions, but the Jesus who, from the bosom of Holiness and love, reaches out to us. What kind of sanctuaries are we called to make? What is the holy place for Jesus to rest in our midst? How will people see his glory in us? Will we look only to the past, the story of what has been, or to the uncertain future of our expectations? Or will we live in the present, touching the hands that are before us, touch with mercy the lives that are presented to us, making monuments not of stone or brick as in Egypt, but living testimonials to the God who walks with us even to the cross, and certainly beyond.

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