Second Sunday in Lent
‘To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.’ [William Blake]
‘Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply.’ [Henri Nouwen, The Life of the Beloved]
Today’s gospel story invites us to look again and see things in a new way - to see Jesus, ourselves and sisters and brothers as God’s beloved. We can see God in others and recognise their sacredness and dignity. When we can see differently, we can act differently. That it is possible to live together in our diversity. To let go of racism. To let go of hatred for homosexuals. To let go of greed, bigotry, power and the need to control and dominate. To reject violence in word and action. To overcome the fear that leads to paralysis and inaction. We can do this because we have been to the ‘mountain’ and return knowing that God is in all things and that all is sacred.
God is our Companion and makes us for each other. To identify oneself with a universal kinship is to offer oneself for suffering. Jesus saw himself not only as a Jew, but a Human Being, the ‘Child of Humanity’ [Son of Man]. To assume this identity, to be on the side of God and not those in power is to become a target of nationalists, jingoists and patriots.
Today’s Gospel does not just retell what happened to Jesus but shows us what is involved and demanded when we recognise that Jesus is the Messiah. As Jesus gradually opened the eyes of the blind man at Bethsaida, he open us up to the nature and implications of who he is.
The recent Synod on the Amazon in Rome was a Transfiguration. It began by listening to the voices of the people most impacted by all kinds of intergenerational injustice: displacement, murder, environmental destruction, mining companies, plantations, farming. For those at the Synod, transfiguration happened because they listened and were able to offer a message of hope to the peoples of the Amazon and to all First Nations people. The message was: ‘you matter’ to God and to us. They are God’s beloved. God is their companion. God is in solidarity with them in their suffering. God will not leave them there. When we look to Jesus we see in him the embodiment of God – a God of justice and calls upon all people to cooperate in truth, justice, love and freedom. One empowering narrative of Jesus’ story is that the Cross offers a place where the suffering of the whole world is connected. ‘For God so loved the world that God gave God's only son...’ God’s heart was broken open to allow the pain and suffering enter in and for healing to take place. Through the Synod and the Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazon) the face of the poor and their reality in the many countries of the Amazon call out for a ‘transfiguration’ of unjust economic and social structures. Do we dare sit with the suffering in our midst and allow our eyes to go beyond the confines of our fences and walls. When we look back to the Cross, we see echoes of the same injustices in our modern lives.
In the first reading, Abram is called to leave his country with a promise of being a father of a new nation. Today, we see refugees from Syria moving in all directions with little promise. They leave because indiscriminately fall upon their homes, loved ones die in the rubble of buildings, because there is little food and medical assistance.
As well as being poor and oppressed, people are still sacrificed for the sake of political ideologies-be it via bombs in Syria, the threat to unleash 100’s of 1000’s of refugees into Europe from Turkey, or the question of fair wages in our country, or recognition of the First Peoples. The same violent power that had Jesus nailed to the cross still forces people bear their own crosses each day.
Unfortunately, people play the game of ‘oppression Olympics’ to find whose is suffering the most. Such comparisons hurt all people. It hides or masks the structural violence behind the many manifestations of suffering rather than the connectedness of suffering. Jesus proclaimed the coming of God’s reign (the kingdom). We are part of its inbreaking as we, together, dig up the roots of injustice and try to create spaces for human flourishing and abundant life. We need to become the hands and feet of Christ as we build God’s reign (the kin-dom of God. Jesus’ hands and feet bore the suffering of the cross and it with these wounded hands, wounded feet, with which we love this world.
Pope Francis reminds us that when people suffer, God is in their midst. God is with us in the rubble of our lives. God is present in the debris after the bombing. God is present where people are forced to move. God is present when children die for no reason. However, God is not content to leave anyone there. The call of the kin-dom of God is to a ‘just peace’. It is a call to rebuild in the midst of what is lost. To bring peace where there is violence, conflict and war. To bring justice where there is oppression.
As we remember the Jesus’ suffering and the suffering of our sisters and brothers, we also remember suffering of creation, and all that is within it. Do we dare sit with the suffering or do we turn away? As we allow ourselves to sit with whoever is suffering, let us look for the presence of the Sacred. It is holy ground. It is always mixed in with the earthy, the vulnerable and the suffering. We see in Jesus, the embodiment of a God who refuses to hover above the earth in some glorified form but climbs back down the mountain and walks straight toward crucifixion - one foot after another.
Marilynne Robinson in one of her books has character, John Amos, who says in a sermon: ‘It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life….Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration.’ This is not to imply that all evil will be overcome in one great intervention by God but that we should not avert our eyes and avoid living with love and compassion in a broken world. It does mean that there is the possibility for change and transformation in the most ordinary of places. It means that love and kindness and solidarity comes to us in ordinary bread, in a word, in water, in a stranger, in a gentle breeze, in the hands and feet of another. If anything, the message of today’s gospel is that God’s presence transforms our world, and us, from within. God tells us to listen to Jesus. Pope Francis is clearly one who listens to Jesus and acts. He showed this when he brought back refugee families from the Middle East. He shows us this when he says don’t just throw a coin at a person on the street but stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands. These are God’s beloved. We need to have personal contact with people who are poor, find ways to reach out to them, the suffering, the refugee and the stranger. They are made in the image and likeness of God.
Transfiguration is a communal process, not a personal possession. Once the light has shone into our hearts, we can act as a transfigured people, and people around us need us to do that.
Compiled by Claude Mostowik msc,
Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Justice and Peace Centre, Enmore
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia [NSW]
President, Pax Christi Australia