#TheShining is the podcast for February 23, 2020. The brilliance of God comes into full view in human form. It is a foretaste message of hope to us. Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Matthew17 #Transfiguration #PurityofGod #Moses #Elijah #Peter #James #John #HardTimes
Full Text of Podcast, Open Here (For our Deaf and H/H Brethren)
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 2/23/2020 Transfiguration Sunday.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 17:1-7.
One of the things that we believe about God is that he is pure brightness and that there is no darkness in him at all. His purity is so bright that we cannot stand in his presence. Do you recall when Moses came down with the second set of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 34? When he came down from the mountain his face shone. In fact, it shone so brightly that he had to cover his face for other people to be around him. In fact, the Book of Exodus says that his face shone “because he had been in the presence of the Lord.”
When Elijah went up on Mount Horeb to escape Jezebel and Ahab, do you remember the sequence of events in 1 Kings 19? The Lord tells Elijah to go out on the mountain because he was about to “pass by.” So, Elijah waits by the entrance to the cave and there is a mighty wind, an earthquake, a fire, and the sheer sound of silence. He knows that God is in the sheer sound of silence. [Does anyone] [Do you] know what Elijah does before he steps out of the cave? 1 Kings 19:13 says that he “wrapped his mantle over his face and then stepped out.”
Elijah wrapped his face in the mantle because the radiance of God is too much for a human being to take. As God told Moses in Exodus 33, “You cannot see my face and live.” The radiance of God is overpowering. God is pure. God is light. God is spirit. God is perfection.
Human beings are impure. We are of the darkness. We are physical and spiritual. We are imperfection. The mystics of the Church, largely in the 11 and 1200s, would tell us that the more pure they got in their approaching of the Lord, the dirtier they felt. This is because the brightness of God shone on their remaining sins more brightly. Even though they were sanctified by having the sinful behavior removed, they understood the darkness of their sin. Sin is indeed darkness. So, we cannot stand in God’s presence and see his face without covering ourselves first.
Let me take a moment to ask you, what is possible with God? Jesus will tell us in Matthew 19 that with God “all things are possible.” So, we need to understand that even things that are paradoxical, meaning, are apparently two opposites, can be held together with God. I believe that paradoxes are just the way of God. Jesus will die and live. This is a paradox. It is an absurdity. When someone is dead, they are dead. Yet, we know and believe that when we die in Jesus Christ, we live. Jesus himself is a paradox. Let me explain by asking you to consider a theological word: hypostatic.
Hypostatic means “fundamental.” It also means “distinct.” So, as I mentioned above, God is God and human is human. They are different and God is not human and human is not God. Yet, when the Holy Spirit came over Mary, there was a distinct and fundamental union which happened in her womb. To put a modern spin on it, there was a fusion of God-ness and human-ness in one person, Jesus Christ. There was a fundamental union of God-ness and human-ness so that when we speak of Jesus, we cannot separate his humanity from his divinity. Humanity and divinity in Jesus are all one.
We say that the fusion of humanity and divinity of Jesus is the “Hypostatic Union,” the “Fundamental and distinct union of humanity and divinity.” What is a paradox is now a reality. Physics be damned, all things are possible with God.
So, when Peter rebukes Jesus in Matthew 16:22, it would make sense that Peter thinks that Jesus is a human ‘anointed one’ or ‘Messiah’. So, when Jesus tells him that he is going to suffer and die, Peter thinks that Jesus will be gone, end of story. The movement to liberate the Jewish people from Roman rule will be over. The Jesus movement will be over. So, because Peter does not perceive yet that Jesus is the God-man, he rebukes the Lord.
From that event, then, we move into the comments from Jesus that we must take up our Cross and then we come to the passage for the Gospel for today. In this Gospel, we have all the requirements of a theophany or appearance of God. We have a mountain where we usually go up to meet God. Check. We have a cloud descending eventually. Check. We have a voice from heaven. Check. Yet, what is distinctive about this hike up the mountain with Jesus is what happens when Peter, James, and John get to see.
The disciples see Moses, the great lawgiver. They see Elijah, the symbolic prophet of all prophets. There between them is Jesus speaking with them. Yet, what makes this distinctive is that in Jesus’ humanity, he begins to shine with a radiance that is so bright it is startling. St. Matthew writes that Jesus’ “face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.” In short, Jesus was shining like the Father did on Sinai with Moses. Jesus was shining like the Father did on Mt. Horeb when he passed by Elijah. Both those times, people needed to cover their face or avoid looking at God in the face. But here, James, Peter, and John could see Jesus in the beatific vision without dying.
The hypostatic union of the humanity and divinity of Jesus makes this so. In fact, this radiance is “the receipts” that show when the Father says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased,” that Jesus is not only declared “the Son” by God, he is in his very being radiantly shining as only God can. His perfection is shining. His purity and goodness are bright shining as the sun. So, what Peter, James, and John are being shown on the mountain in the Transfiguration of Jesus is that the one who said that he will suffer and die will not remain there. God cannot die. Jesus, the Son, cannot die. His divinity will not die. Yet, he will die. It is a paradox, it is the way of the hypostatic union.
I remember sitting in Catholic Seminary in Christology, the study of the person of Jesus Christ, as this very paradox was being explained. I was sitting in the back row. I had already studied this at Duke’s Seminary years before. While at Duke it totally destroyed my simplistic understanding of Jesus and what was accomplished through him. So, in this second go around, I was sitting in the back of the room. From the front row to the back, like a wave, you could see the reality of the hypostatic union sweep over my brother seminarians. Their bodies physically moved by the notion that truly, God is able to bridge the divide between humanity and divinity, throwing all physics out the window when it comes to Jesus.
It means he will die and he will live. It means that when the doors are locked in the upper room in John 20 that the physical presence of Jesus will appear in the room. It means that when he is on the beach calling the apostles in from their boats after the Resurrection that he also eats fish. It means that when the disciples on the Road to Emmaus walk with him, talk with him, and he is made known in the breaking of the bread; he then is gone. This hypostatic union phenomenon is what makes it possible for us to believe that the God of the universe can take unleavened bread and wine and transform them into the body and blood of Jesus because physics no longer applies. When we receive him over our lips we are unleashing the radiance of the Transfiguration, the purity of God on Sinai, the brightness of God on Horeb into our bodies and souls. We are unleashing what we could not see so that we can begin to see. It is the radiant transfigured Lord within us in the Eucharist.
The radiance of Jesus in his human body at the Transfiguration says a lot of things. It says to Peter, James, and John, that after the Resurrection, you are going to remember this and the suffering of Christ will now have meaning. It said to the Council of Nicea where the Nicene Creed was started that Jesus is Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made. It says that the mission the disciples are being sent to proclaim to the world will not end in their own death, but life.
It means that our mission on this earth, filled with pain, sorrow, suffering, disappointment, and rejection is not without merit. As we descend into Lent and we “bury the alleluia”, we “give up something” for a fast, when we “fast”, when we carve out a time for devotion, when we change bad habits into good, when we tackle a hard family situation, hard personal situation, hard marital situation, we know what awaits us on Easter: the risen Christ in his glory and out own transformation.
It means the many Lenten seasons in our lives, on the calendar and not on the calendar, will be marked with coming down from the mountain top experiences into the messiness of Christianity. In Chapter 16, Peter thinks that following Jesus means there will be blue linen suits, Teslas in his garage, a fat pension, and a big stadium church in Houston where he can stand in the middle, smile, and say, “think positively”. That is not what ministry is. Ministry is not about the plumb church position. It is about the grinding day in and day out of loving for people who are hard to love, being an example for people when you wouldn’t want to be an example. In short, it is a hard row.
The same is true about being a Christian. Being a Christian does have Transfiguration mountain experiences, indeed. Yet, most of the time, it is being persecuted, suffering, and dying on crosses for the salvation of the world. We have been enlisted in a movement that loves the unlovable. That is hard work.
My mother often says, “Getting old is not for sissies.” Neither is being a Christian. Thankfully, the Lord tells St. Paul and us, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Sufficient, as well, is our weekly encounter with the radiance of God in the Transfiguration found in the Eucharist.
What sustains us is the reality that the one we consume, Sunday in and Sunday out, is also the One who is radiant on the mountain, light from Light, true God from true God. With him, we can fight the good fight and win the race. For just as it is made possible that the radiance of God could be shone through a man; all things are possible with God. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2019.
Donate $2 for This Podcast
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian