“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son and Our Lord?” In the baptismal liturgy, just as during the renewal of our baptismal promises, the minister asks us this question. The affirmation, our response “I do believe” to this very important question, points to the capital importance of knowing Christ, getting to know who He really is, because we cannot place our trust and confidence in someone whom we do not know. But then getting to know about Christ doesn’t only mean having a mental outline of his doctrines, in order to be able to give a ready answer to any exam in catechism class; knowing Christ means getting to live with him, or better still, allowing his own life to enter into our own so as to be transformed by it. In a way, the Christian life is a matter of responding to that question of Jesus Christ, posed to his apostles: Who do you say that I am?
Lent presents itself as a worthy avenue of getting to know our Lord more, the grace of God that makes itself manifest in this season of grace give us the light to see him more clearly, in the same way that the closest apostles of Jesus were able to see him in a different light, literally. In the Gospel reading this Sunday, we come to know of Jesus being accompanied by three of his disciples—Peter, James and John—up to Mt. Tabor. Standing there with them, he is transfigured, that is to say, there is a change in his appearance: his face, and even his own clothes, take on a dazzling beauty, such that the evangelist Mark, jotting down Peter’s memories of that event, describes them as whiter than any fuller could ever make them. Before them, Jesus seems to converse with two figures from the religious tradition of Israel: Moses, who handed over the Law of God to his people, and Elijah, the greatest of Israel’s prophets. Then suddenly, with that impressive sight before them, they find themselves within a thick cloud and hear a voice thundering: This is my beloved Son. Listen to him. Terrified they fall to the ground. With the voice still ringing in their ears, they look up, and see Jesus, and only Jesus.
The transfiguration of the Lord on Mt. Tabor was another one of those moments in the life lived by Jesus with his disciples that allow his followers a glimpse into his identity. No doubt, some of them may have remembered the voice as the same one proclaiming Jesus to his Son when he rose over the waters of the Jordan. The appearance of the Lord, his clothes so white that no fuller on earth could achieve such a whitening effect, would lead them to conclude that such splendor was unearthly, divine.
The experience of the apostles had made them realize that this was no ordinary man they were dealing with. For indeed, nobody had ever taught with such authority in their synagogues, such that even wind and the waves obey him; it was unheard of that anybody could heal a man deaf and mute since birth, who could restore life to those who lay in death; someone who could even walk on the waters, something which the psalms themselves attributed only to God.
This was something that perhaps moved Peter to confess: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God! Aided and moved by the finger of God, the apostle, a witness to many of the wonders made by Jesus, made the confession that would transform him into the rock upon which the faith of the Church rests, the faith upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cfr. Mk. 1:1).
But then the experience that the disciples had with the Lord on Tabor wasn’t enough with the glory that they had witnessed. It is not enough to be a witness of the glory of the Son of God. As they were going down, the Lord told them not to tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (cfr.Mk.9:9). It is not enough to focus on the glory of Jesus Christ; it is also precise to know that the only way to share in that glory is through the royal way of the Cross. This was something that the apostles at first would not be able to understand. All of them had that conviction that glory was in store for them, because they had left everything and shared the life of the Master; that they were to share in his reign and in his power seemed certain. In fact, they quarreled over it, so much so, that the Master himself had to give them a lesson in humility in various moments of their life with Him. But what they didn’t know was that there was only one way to share in that glory, and that meant sharing in his passion and death as well.
That the Lord would have to undergo through the scandal of the Cross was too much for his disciples; it was to much for them to stomach, the fact that they descended from the glory of Tabor in order to climb Calvary. But later on, strengthened by the Paraclete, they would make the announcement of His death and resurrection the heart of their preaching, as we would hear in the Second Reading: Christ Jesus it is who died, or rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us”(Rom. 8:34).
The faith of the apostles is the basis of the faith that we have. What we know of Christ Jesus is founded firmly on the testimony of the apostles themselves, one that continues to resound in our days; it is the same testimony made by the Church, holy, catholic and apostolic. It only in the Church that we can come to know who Christ really is. Nowadays it is easy to construct and image of Christ that is suspiciously attuned to our own convenience, one that, more often than not, seems to deny the cross. It is so easy for us to profess in a Christ who is all glorious, but who does not have the marks of the nails on his hands and feet, and the wound on his side. In an age where it is easy to personalize things, we can always run the risk of making a “personalized Christ”. But a Christ who is personalized in this sense, adjusted to our comfort, to our whims, is a false one, one that cannot save, one that cannot show us the way to the glory of eternal life.
May our contemplation of Christ transfigured in glory strengthen us to follow by taking our cross and join it to His, knowing that glory is only to be achieved nobly through sacrifice. Amen.