READINGS: Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18. Romans 8:31-34. Mark 9:2-10.
Many years ago when I was a little kid of about 10 years old we lived in what we call in Australia, a dead end street in Cammeray, Sydney. That had nothing to do with the people who lived in the street, but the end of our Street was the End. The street ended at the top of a small cliff. Now going back into the late 50’s and 60’s we did not have Computers, but we did have Television sets….yes, black and white ones. All the kids in the street knew each other, and played all sorts of games together after school, and at weekends……there was no play station! Our family was especially friendly with another Family across the road, and one of the older boys in the family had promised to take me to the Zoo on a particular Saturday. Maybe, he wanted to leave me in the Zoo, I’m not sure. But both families were really close friends. The night before our proposed trip to the Zoo, I could hardly sleep because I was so excited of what would happen the next day. My friend was supposed to come over to our place at 9.00am, and then we would get the 9.10am Bus to Neutral Bay. Then catch a Tram to the Zoo. For Sydneysiders….you can tell that it was about fifty years ago……. eh? Trams, if only we had them back again! Well, 9.00am came! I was waiting on the front Veranda of our House. 9.05 came and went, 9.10 came, and I saw the Bus go by, 9.15am, I could not understand why my friend had not shown up. Mum and Dad told me to wait till 9.30am, and then I could go over the road to see what was happening. I tell you, it took ages to get to 9.30! It was like watching and waiting for a kettle to boil. Then I was off! When I got to the front door of the House his Mum said that he was still asleep! I said, ASLEEEEEEEP! He promised me that he would take me to the Zoo today! For a little kid, like me that was a traumatic experience, because I had such trust in him, and it was built on friendship. That was the first time that I can remember that I was let down by someone who was my friend.
The theme which runs through the three readings today is about fidelity, trust, obedience and absolute faithfulness. For starters, we know that God called Abraham to make the biggest sacrifice in his life, and Abraham obeyed God’s request. But let’s look at what obedience means here. It is much more than just doing the task of sacrificing his Son in response to an instruction; biblical obedience is listening not just with the intellect, but with body, mind and spirit. Obedience is total listening, and feeling the consequences of the invitation, as well as being aware of the pain within the response. In short we could say that biblical obedience is holistic listening to God. I think that we can even take this a bit further in understanding what this really means. So often when we read the Scriptures we can do it from an information point of view, in other words, getting the meaning of the story and analysing it, then saying, what implications does it have for me?. If we stay with that method, we can run the risk of staying on the surface of its import and invitation. Look at the water striders on a pond, they stand and walk on the water, but they can never get below the surface. We have the ability and gifts to go beneath the surface of the Scriptures, and be submerged into its words! For example, let’s take the story of Abraham being asked to prepare an Altar of Sacrifice for his Son Isaac. Within the activity of preparation, there are inarticulate groans and internal wrestling’s taking place within the person of Abraham. Can we hear them? Can we feel it? Can our ‘seeing’ of this event stir our faith? To make myself a bit clearer, because I get carried away with this, just imagine that you are going to my special Store in Australia….Bunning’s Hardware, or for our UK readers, it’s like going to Mica Hardware. I want to buy two 30 Litre bags of Potting Mix. When I look at the bags, my mind is already processing the effort that will be needed to put one 30 Litre Bag in the Trolley, let alone two. Then I brace myself to pick the bag up correctly so that I don’t do my back in….when I make the holistic response to pick up the bag, I often make an inarticulate groan….as I do the job, and put it in the Trolley. That to my way of thinking is a holistic approach to the complete task. I believe that in our faith-responses we make inarticulate groans, and in fact while at ‘prayer’ I am totally sure of it….let’s see what St. Paul has to say about this in relation to ‘prayer’. Romans 8:26-27…’ The spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. We do not even know how to pray, but through our inarticulate groans the Spirit Himself is pleading for us, and God who searches our inmost being knows what the Spirit means, because He pleads for God’s own people in God’s own way.’ Now how good is that? Now this at first glance might be a bit un nerving because we are aware that God’s knows really what’s going on inside us, but really isn’t that good? We don’t need to put on a face or a mask in order to present well when God asks something deep from us? Let’s have a look at Psalm: – Ps. 138
The Response to the Psalm is: O Lord, you search me and you know me.
O where can I go from your spirit,
Or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the Heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there. RESPONSE
If I take the wings of the dawn
And dwell at the sea’s furthest end,
Even there your hand would lead me,
Your right hand would hold me fast. RESPONSE
If I say: ‘Let the darkness hide me
And the light around me be night,’
Even darkness is not dark for you
And the night is as clear as the day. RESPONSE
O search me, God, and know my heart.
O test me and know my thoughts.
See that I follow not the wrong path
And lead me in the path of eternal life. RESPONSE
Notice that the Response to the Psalm is our community Twitter message to God: Just imagine if that message were on our lips, in our minds and hearts all day! What great food for thought for our inarticulate groans of prayer with God! This simple method or ‘way’ is the foundation for contemplative prayer. We don’t have to live in a Monastery or Convent to use this ‘way’ in conversation with the Lord. Let’s go back to the Twitter message in the Psalm; in rolling this antiphon around and around in our minds till we are saturated with it…..just PAUSE….and let the momentum of the Meditation launch you into silence….yes, that means saying nothing. I find that hard because my friends tell me that I have an opinion on everything….so as we were; Let go, and let the inarticulate groans within your spirit be nudged along by the Holy Spirit. This is an act of Faith! Just let go of your words and let the Spirit take over in nothingness. It might seem like a boring task, but we do PAUSE in silence many times in our day. In today’s Gospel which we will move onto very soon, after I have had another cup of Tea, there is a tremendous Twitter message from God: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’
In the second Reading St. Paul in his Letter to the Christian Community in Rome assures them, that God is totally faithful and would never leave them or forget them, using the example of the death and rising of Jesus as the father’s Son.
Let’s have a look at fidelity. The foundational building blocks of all relationships are trust and fidelity. Without this, there can be no certainty within relationships. We have all experienced in all kids on ways times when we have failed in fidelity and times when other have failed in it as well. However, just imagine if I had made up my mind after my friend forgot to take me to the Zoo that was it! No more, I will never trust anyone again! How stupid that would have been. That is where conversation with my Mum and Dad, and my sister helped me work through it, and build from it. The key to reconciliation is conversation. If we start talking about Reconciliation without the desire to meet others who are involved in it, then the healing process won’t happen; then it is a waste of time! St. Paul and the whole of the Scriptures time and time again tell us of God’s desire that we come back if we have strayed. The rest of it has to do with us, and working with Grace, so that we can make that return to God and others, possible and a reality.
Now, let’s have a look at the Gospel. The opening sentence immediately tells us that something important is going to happen because of the ascent of a mountain. In the Bible, Mountains are places of revelation, they are places of epiphany that is unveiling of the sacred, and they are also places of deep and mystical conversations as well as ‘listening in silence.’ Look at what happened on the mountain in the first reading today? Look at what happened on Mt.Sinai; look at what happened on Mt Nebo in present day Jordan? Moses and his companions saw the breath taking expanse of ‘the promised land’. (The fulfilment of God’s promise)
Now, let’s look at more than Geography here….what happens in us when we ascend a mountain, either by foot, Camel, Motor bike or Car? It would seem that there can be a percolating excitement within. When we reach to the top and see the view, we often say that it is ‘breath-taking’. It takes our breath away! It causes us to gaze in holistic stillness; and we are then deeply tuned in to ‘listening’. I will never forget arriving at the summit of Mt.Sinai for day break, and the last thing that I wanted to do was talk! That’s a bit unusual for me. The words that were being said and echoed caused me to sit on the ground…I just could not stand up. A truly holy place, why? Because of the millions of people who have brought their ‘lived-faith’ to that place and this has given them insight into the mystery of conversation, initiated by the Lord God.
Now, let’s go to Mt.Tabor…the Holy Mountain. These days this mountain is a great launching place for Hang Gliders! However, the mystery and holiness of the place is well and truly there. As we keep in mind the ‘breath-taking’ experience in ascending a high mountain and beholding the view, let’s hang onto that experience as the mystery and message of the Transfiguration unfolds for the three Apostles who were privy to this moment.
Let’s look very closely at the text, for meanings that could escape us, if we either rush through it, or just treat the story at an academic level. Notice it was Jesus who initiated this hike up the mountain. Now notice that in their presence, that is within the close proximity of conversation Jesus is ‘changed’, Elijah and Moses appear within the proximity of conversation…..It does not say that Jesus retreated to a higher part of the mountain and then the Transfiguration took place. No! It happened right there in their midst. In the English translation of the Lectionary it then says that while Jesus and the two Old Testament Fathers were held in conversation with Jesus…..and notice that nothing about the contents of that conversation is made known to us, but it says the following. ‘Then Peter spoke to Jesus. Rabbi it is wonderful for us to be here etc.’ However in the Greek text the translation does not say that Peter spoke to Jesus, but rather Peter answered Jesus….Rabbi it is wonderful for us to be here etc. So therefore, it seems to me that the three apostles were in the midst of this experience. Peter understood this experience as a moment of the Apostles’ inclusion. In other words this moment was an invitation to Peter, who in speaking up for the group, puts into words their threefold response. ‘It is wonderful for us to be here etc.’
Now, I bet that you have had experiences of spiritual transfiguration within natural moments in your life time, which due to their intensity and fathomless depths have caused you to say so spontaneously…..’O Lord it is wonderful for us to be here’. Was it at the birth of your Baby? Was it when all seemed lost for you, and angel in human form was the saving hand of God for you? Was it when ‘love’ embraced you, and you wished deeply for that moment to be captured eternally? Was it when you experienced without a shadow of a doubt that God was with you in a particular moment? All the above, and many more experiences change us; we can be transfigured through them, and our faith is charged with new insight, and our whole being ‘listens’ anew.
Notice that the three Apostles were frightened, sacred out of their wits during this experience? Look at Our Lady at the Annunciation, she too was frightened……the Angel noticing her fright, said to her ‘Do not be afraid, you have won God’s favour!’ Notice that during the frightful experience of the Apostles, a cloud covered them with shadow, and the words were heard…’ This beloved, my Son, listen to him.’ (In the Greek translation, my is used twice…a form of emphasis not a typo) Let’s stay with the cloud, the mist, the breath of God. In Genesis chapter 1 it says, ‘In the beginning there was darkness over the world, God’s Spirit hovered over that darkness, and life appeared…..’ God’s Spirit, God’s breath hovered over the darkness and it was the first cause of life’s initiation! At Pentecost, the Risen Lord breathed on the Apostles and turned their fright and timidity into loving boldness and outreach. In the Transfiguration we see that the Apostles were fortified by this experience, and that the early Church Catechetic (teaching) guaranteed that Jesus is the Christ! The promised one of the Old Testament. Listen to His Words, and act on them.
As I look back over this realhomilie it seems as though I have gone on and on….But that is the beauty and miracle of the Scriptures. God’s Word is evergreen, for all times and seasons, God’s Word is in a state of perpetual motion and its echo has been and will continue to be available to all. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again!
Fr Kevin Walsh. Sydney Australia