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Fixing a Temporary Abode for a Permanent Reality: The Transfiguration

fixing-a-temporary-abode-for-a-permanent-reality-the-transfiguration

It is a truism that food, shelter and clothing are the most essential needs of the human person. We need food to stay alive, shelter to rest, clothing for cover and warmth. I really do not want to further create a table of preference for these three, for I consider them all as basic.

The transfiguration event in the gospel of Mark draws my attention to these basic needs. Without trying to reconstruct the event, I just want to express the essence of the needs. Most probably, Jesus and his three apostles must have eaten before climbing the mountain. They definitely wore clothes, and they must have been fitting to the climate of the mountain. One thing is missing, shelter. Yes, no convenient place to sit, rest and be comfortable.

The nature of day and night, the reality of work and rest, and the bodily disposition to sleep and wake suggests the need for shelter. The weather conditions especially at their extremes, drives us to seek shelter. Also, there is the human need for stability, a shelter to return to at the end of the day.

Shelter through the ages have taken various forms. Shelter in form of tents, cave homes, hut, rondavels, mud houses, stilts, cottages, villas, palaces, castles, penthouses and skyscrapers. Thus, Peter must have gone through the essential needs list and concluded that a shelter is the next needed provision especially at the glorious visitation of Moses and Elijah.

However, why did Peter made the suggestion for tent provision? Surely I can’t get into Peter’s mind but I can try to reason from his perspective. I guess it was because they were on the mountain, and a quick set up accommodation would be the best option. Armies all over the world have long used tents as part of their working life. Tents are preferred by the military for their relatively quick setup and take down times.

fixing-a-temporary-abode-for-a-permanent-reality-the-transfiguration

Did Peter ever thought of a permanent abode? A tent is temporary, so instead of a tent, why not build a permanent structure and live forever together. Should we say Peter was not eager to leave the mountain? Maybe Peter’s thought was: “This reality is happening here on the mountain, so why come down? Will all this not go away if we leave this mountain? I am not ready to lose this…let’s settle for a tent.”

Peter preferred a temporary abode for a permanent reality; a simple setup for a grandiose splendor; a passing moment for a timeless existence. I think of the transfiguration as something like “coming attractions”, seeing that which is to come.

What on earth is going on here? It is the transfiguration. From our historical perspective we can look back and say that the disciples were given a preview of the glory that belongs to Jesus after his death and resurrection and in the fullness of the kingdom of God. They don’t know it now, but that is the same glory that they will be given to them after they bring the message of the kingdom to their contemporaries.

Peter did not yet understand this when he wanted to remain with Christ on the mountain. It has been reserved for you, Peter, but for after death. For now, Jesus says: “Go down to toil on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth. Life goes down to be killed; Bread goes down to suffer hunger; the way goes down to be exhausted on his journey; the spring goes down to suffer thirst; and you refuse to suffer?

fixing-a-temporary-abode-for-a-permanent-reality-the-transfiguration

Peter wishes to encapsulate the experience by building three booths, putting on locks, throwing away the keys and living out the personal experience of what had happened. There was something new being offered and retrenching, seeking the security of privacy, and having more of these delightful, exciting, and ratifying experiences, all would be natural and safe. Instead, Jesus, because He did not come to be alone, did not come to be safe, and did not come to be “figured out” only on the mountain urged them back down to live on their level.

It is on their level that he will be figured out. He comes down from the mountain to continue his movement steadily toward his being figured on the cross and this “figuring out” is his destiny and dignity. He invites the Apostles to keep to themselves all they had seen and heard until the glorification.

Jesus is always more than meets the eye. In the transfiguration, the more is revealed quite a bit. Something more is let out of the divine bag. The three beholders are both blest and baffled by what is happening. They are learning slowly that there is something here in Jesus that both meets the eye and something that is appreciated only through the eyes of faith. God loves and respects our freedom so much that there will always be enough to be seen by the eyes to attract us, but not enough to force us to believe. Peter, James and John follow Jesus down the hill to continue living what they have seen and what they are called to believe.

One lesson is the recognition of a very human inclination to seize an encouraging experience and attempt to make it permanent, “to build three tents” there. When we feel spiritually consoled or are given a keen awareness of God’s presence with us, we may very much desire that the moment would never end, now that we “have arrived”.

That seem to be how Peter felt then. It is interesting that the “voice from the cloud” actually interrupts Peter while he was still speaking, as if telling him to keep quiet and stop making no sense. Peaks and valleys are both part of the beauty of life’s landscape. A peak stretched out without boundaries would be flat and potentially as monotonous as a low lying plain, no matter how high its elevation. It is the existence of valleys that renders peaks so majestic and awe-inspiring.

fixing-a-temporary-abode-for-a-permanent-reality-the-transfiguration

Another lesson flows precisely from the transient and indeed exceptional nature of the experience of transfiguration. The apostles and disciples encountered and followed a Jesus that did not appear to them as trans-figured at all, and even for the three privileged apostles, the experience was a clear exception.

In our own faith experience of Jesus’ presence in our lives we often encounter Jesus rather as dis-figured in the flawed human beings we interact with on a daily basis and even in our selves. Dis-figured in a church riddled with scandals, in the poor who do not meet our standards of appearance or manners, in the real limitations of the very people we love and want to love in the flawed implementation of who we ourselves desire to be. It is here that our tents are pitched, not on some exceptional experience of transfiguration. However recognizing the dis-figured Lord is not quite spontaneous for us, it is gift- a gift God desires to give, but also a gift we need to desire to receive.

The human and divine natures of Jesus in the one person is a tremendous mystery. Through His human instrumentality he did his wonderful deeds among humans. His divinity was present constantly and accompanied all his gestures. In the transfiguration, his divinity met the humanity of the apostles more clearly and closely.

Here’s the careful part. In our cultic prayer, our liturgies, Jesus in his one person with two natures, meets us as well. There is a part of us that participates in God’s nature! Both our humanity and that sharing in his divinity, are met and embraced. Our tendencies are to gravitate toward our humanity’s being met and comforted, but we retrench from our divinity’s being met. We cannot understand that participation, that kind of life within us and so we let it go. We love what we can understand, and deny or neglect the mystical or frightening beyond our limited minds.

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