/* ----- ---- *?

Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Feast of the Transfiguration

Exodus 34:29-352 Peter 1:13-21
Psalm 99
Luke 9:28-36

You gotta love Peter. At least, I do. He is so very human, isn’t he? Impetuous, impulsive, headstrong... eager and well-intentioned, but consistently about half clueless.

This morning’s Gospel is a prime example of that. Here he is confronted with an amazing sight-- his beloved teacher, one he has just a short time ago recognized as the messiah, frist transfigured into a glorious figure as he prayed, and then standing in conversation with two of the holiest figures in Jewish history.

His reaction, of course, is understandable. He is overwhelmed, and thrilled, and (being Peter) eager to act-- to honor these godly men, and to preserve the moment. “So how do we do that?” You can almost hear him thinking. “ I know-- we build booths!” Shelters, a holy edifice for each one, monuments to their righteousness and to the significance of the moment. It would also be recognition of a sort for him, too, of course. A commemorative structure, would also be something he can point to on his own behalf. “We were there! See that? I helped to build it! Isn't that cool?”

Of course, that sort of honor was not what Jesus wanted or needed. But Peter didn’t understand that just then. He didn’t have the whole picture, didn’t understand. As the gospel says, “He did not know what he was saying.”

How often might that be said of us? Seems to me we as human beings are very prone to acting without thinking it through, often with disastrous results. Even when we do-- even when we consider all that we know, all the pros and cons, and come to the most thoughtful conclusion we can-- our choices and actions often have unintended consequences that reach far beyond what we could possibly have imagined.

This is a very good day to remember that. In addition to this being the Feast of the Transfiguration, it is also the anniversary of the day, 61 years ago, when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Another moment with clouds and blinding light that changed the course of history.

I have no doubt that the wisdom of that decision was discussed at length, by those responsible. I have no doubt that a lot of thought and care went into making that choice. And the action did have the desired effect-- after the decimation of Hiroshima, and the followup at Nagasaki three days later, Japan quickly and completely capitulated and the war was over.

But that decision has also reverberated through history, in ways that no one anticipated, or could have anticipated. For years-- indeed, generations-- the consequences have become more and more apparent. People suffered the painful, lingering aftereffects of radiation poisoning. The best estimates are that 70,000 people died in the initial attack, but more than three times that many died in the next five years as a result of the radiation exposure. Countless more lived on for years after that, suffering lingering, irreparable harm-- debilitating wounds that would not heal, various cancers, birth defects and stillbirths... the list goes on.

When the bombs were dropped, of course, no one knew the extent of the damage they could do. Even the scientists who developed and tested them were not fully cognizant of the ramifications of their discovery. They were eager to test their new discovery, of course; but they were not sure how powerful the explosion would be, nor how far it would reach, nor what the damage would be. At the first tests in the desert, scientist Enrico Fermi is said to have been placing odds on whether or not the very air would ignite-- and if even those who were the observers would survive the explosion!

They didn’t know. And so, in their partial ignorance, they accomplished great things-- and perpetrated great horror, all at the same time.

Now, Peter’s eagerness was a different sort, of course. He was not in the middle of a war, for starters! But his desires also would have had unintended ramifications that we can see with the advantage of 2,000 years of hindsight. Think about it: he was placing Jesus on a par with Elijah and Moses. Now, he likely saw as honoring Jesus; after all, these patriarchs were giants of faith and history. In reality, however... as great as these men were, and as powerful as they were in their faith, they were, in fact, only men. They were not the Son of God-- they were not God, as Jesus in fact was. Even though Peter had recognized Jesus as the Messiah, he was evidently not clear on what that meant.

And so, in his well-intentioned ignorance, his attempt to honor would instead have been an effort to limit, to confine, to contain what Jesus was and would be.

Golly, I don’t know about you, but I can be just as ignorant, just as clueless, as Peter ever was. So how do we avoid doing that? Well, here’s the good news: in this reading, God gives us an answer.

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

That’s what we do. We are not perfect, anymore than Peter was. And left to our own devices, history shows that we can, with the best of intentions, make some horrific choices. But here’s the Good News: we are not alone. We have the guidance we need, if we only reach for it, and listen to the Son.

No, we don’t have Jesus standing bodily on the mountainside next to us, as Peter did; but we do have the next best thing. As the book of Acts puts it, we have “the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” We can study the canon of scripture, the Word of God which “contains all things necessary to salvation.” We can continue in the fellowship of the Body of Christ, working together and learning with and from one another. We can come to the Table, reaching for the healing and renewal that we find in the body and blood of our Lord. And we can pray, conversing with God, reaching for hope and understanding. That’s what we do, as Christian disciples. That's how we open ourselves to godly transfiguration.

That’s what the gift of discipleship is all about.

Good news, indeed.


Post a Comment

<< Home