Sunday, March 04, 2012

Second Sunday of Lent

I teach a senior-level elective on the History of Catholic Philosophy. I guess, in theory, the course is supposed to traverse the history of philosophy with special attention to major Catholic thinkers. In reality, the course is basically an arena where students get a chance to read some of the more important thinkers in the Christian tradition and wrestle with the credibility of belief. In my experience, students are less fixated on the distinction between homoousion and homoiousion than they are on the existence of God and sorting out the question, "what difference does faith make."

The more stubborn of my students want a proof, or iron-clad demonstration, of faith. They see faith as simply a way of putting plywood over the holes of reason, a temporary stop-gap until we sort out the problems we have still no answer for. The existence of God, or the life of faith, is thought of as more a math problem or chemical equation than it is a relationship.

I wonder if Jesus' disciples had similar questions. Sure, they were born into a cultural and faith context radically different from our own. Yet, I can't help but think that they had to struggle with what Jesus said. They saw this Jesus fellow, they followed and listened, and they put him into their pre-existing categories. They could see Jesus as a wonder-worker, a prophet, a great teacher...but Messiah? It was, surely, hard to see him in this capacity. How do you convince your friends of something like this, how do you put into words something they can't hardly imagine? Were this GI Jesus, they'd have gotten this sense of Messiah. Yet a preaching craftsman? A bit more difficult.

Today's Gospel recounts the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus' ascent of Mount Tabor with his disciples where
...he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. 
Jesus didn't offer a clever argument to convince his friends of his identity. He showed them who he was, he let be seen who he was. In the Transfiguration, the disciples get a glimpse into Jesus' identity. Perhaps this is why the betrayal of Good Friday so terrible...Peter knew who Jesus was, yet fled from his side.

Perhaps we could think of the Transfiguration as having a master musician perform his own composition. Having found a copy of the notes, the amateurs strain to play it and make sense of it. They get close, but they are not quite there yet. The composer doesn't argue with them and tell them that they are wrong. He shows them how the performance is supposed to go; he gives them a glimpse of what the composition ought to sound like when performed rightly. The composer then charges the musicians to go forth and to play it right.

Today, perhaps we could consider how the Transfiguration gives us a glimpse of the whole, of the real, and how we might reorient our lives to reflect who Jesus is and what he promises. Like any musician, we are sure to make mistakes. Yet with time and practice and grace, we can have confidence that we will eventually bring our instruments together in one celestial chorus and performance of the Good News.

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