1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11 He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
This is one of those passages of scripture that I cannot read without giggling. Seriously…I lose it when I read this passage. If you aren’t in the mood to indulge my stupidity for a moment, be kind to yourself and skip ahead a few paragraphs to the point where I say “Back to the topic at hand.”
First I want to call him Jesus Christ Glow Stick or just Glow Stick Jesus. It’s as if Jesus was normal all this time and then he bent over too far and ‘click!’ and the glow stick part of Him was activated and he got all bright and glowy “and his face shown like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.” This is the point where I start thinking that marketing folks could use Glow Stick Jesus to advertise the whitening properties of their detergent. “Transfiguration Tide…for clothes that are dazzling white!”
Then I start imagining Glow Stick Jesus at a rave and all the little ravers, drugged up on Ecstacy, oohing and ahhhing over Jesus’ glowing visage. It makes me wonder if Jesus is able to glow in any other colors than ‘like the sun’, because if He can glow in different colors, that would be a major money maker.
Then I start wondering about Peter. What is wrong with that man? Your Lord and Savior turns into a glow lamp and two historical characters appear in front of your eyes, and the first thing you do is offer to build them each a house? The least Peter could have done was to fanboy for a few minutes over Moses and Elijah, but NO…he goes all Bob the Builder on them to the point that God has to get involved and tell Peter to shut up and listen to Glow Stick Jesus.
Okay, God didn’t quite say “Shut up and listen to Glow Stick Jesus” but you get my point.
Finally…I have always wondered how the disciples knew that the two guys who appeared next to Jesus were Moses and Elijah. Unless God requires the residents of Heaven to wear name tags (which makes Heaven sound like a convention or a senior center) then there has to be a couple of lines of scripture missing where the disciples say “Who were those guys?” and Jesus tells them that he was talking to Moses and Elijah.
And this is where I go from stupid to serious.
I’m a little stunned that Jesus forbade Peter, James, and John from telling the other disciples about the Transfiguration. Why would He do that? Why would Jesus set certain disciples apart from the others to have special knowledge about life after death, which would provide a huge amount of consolation during the crucifixion. After all…Peter, James, and John just saw Moses and Elijah…two guys who had been dead for hundreds and hundreds of years and there they were, alive and well and speaking to Jesus. That’ll change your point of view when it comes to believing in life after death, and it would certainly change your experience of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus if you had already seen someone vividly alive after their death. I feel like Jesus cheated the other disciples just a little. I don’t know why He would do that, and I have to trust that He knew what He was doing, but it still seems kind of unwise and even unkind to the other disciples. Don’t you wonder what seeing the transfiguration would have done to change Judas’ mind?
But that’s a blog post for a different day.
Back to the topic at hand.
Usually, after I stop giggling, I find myself wondering if we, or more specifically I, will ever find out what my transfigured self is like. Do I shine like the sun and become dazzlingly white, or am I so flawed that I will flicker and sputter like a bad florescent bulb? I’m guessing that it’s more of the latter, and that disturbs me.
Recently I was rereading a favorite book, Voices of Silence, the Lives of the Trappists Today by Frank Bianco. I originally read this book when I was in seminary. At that point in my life I was struggling to reconcile my own flawed humanity with a life devoted to ministry, and this book provided story after story of Trappist monks and priests struggling in exactly the same way, trying to reconcile their lives and failings with a deep desire to dedicate themselves to a holy life, set apart. I reread the book every now and then and I always find new gems that I missed in previous readings.
The passage that caught my eye this time was actually a passage that caught my eye the first time I read the book. Bianco was discussing his need for a hero with Dom Thomas (known as Mac in Bianco’s book) the former abbot of Gethsemane Abbey, who tells Bianco that this struggle is exactly what led to the fall of the angels.
“People need to feel that somebody has all the answers, that somebody is in control. They spend the major portion of their lives and energy trying to gain and…keep control. They’re trying to prove they’re perfect…It’s a self-delusion that the devil himself bought. ‘Let us be like God’ he urged all those poor angels who followed him into damnation.”
My awareness that I would flicker and sputter like a bad florescent bulb might be a good thing if the search for perfection leads to damnation. I am acutely aware that I am nothing like God, nowhere capable of sustaining that kind of goodness, kindness, or awareness of the needs of others. Jesus was always caring for others and healing them, and I…I am mostly about myself, which is normal but annoying for a Christian who is supposed to be a leader of the Church.
Mac goes on to make the point that our imperfections are not what will lead us into damnation.
“You still don’t understand God’s love. Perfect love, he explained, cannot see imperfection …God is perfect love. Evil is self-love. It is philosophically impossible for God to even ‘think’ of evil. He cannot ‘see’ evil. It is completely outside His orbit. That fact tells us what our final judgement will be like…We will come before all-perfect love (God), who can only recognize love. He will only see as much of us as has been loving. That He will take unto himself…Sin and evil are nothing less than our inability to love. At those moments, it’s as though we’re invisible to God. He, the all-good, perfect lover, can only see the good in us.”
I am not sure that I buy into the idea that God cannot see us at all when we are sinning because an action that is love-less cannot extinguish all the love that’s within me, not even for a second. It does, however, explain my feeling that I flicker and sputter and flash like a florescent bulb struggling to light and remain lit. The love inside me is like a force that fights for dominance, pushing its way to the surface only to be capsized by my ego and my self-will. Luckily love is more of a buoy than a boat, inevitably righting itself and rising to the surface to claim its rightful place in the center of my life again and again despite my stupidity and sinfulness.
Suddenly, the idea of Jesus transfigured, shining like the sun and clothed in dazzling white makes total sense to me. Apparently love glows like sunlight, shining from within, illuminating not only the person who loves but the beloved, who bathes in the warmth of that love.
And so I flicker and sputter like a bad florescent bulb, and while that is not optimal, it is good news because it means that there is light and love in me that cannot be suppressed for long. My job is to stay plugged into the Source and do my best to clear away anything that dims my light. This, I think, is what Wesley would call being ‘perfected in love.’ I would call it upgrading me from florescent to LED.
I’m still giggling about Glow Stick Jesus and the laundry detergent. Sorry.