Have you ever known anyone who was extremely athletic who loved to run, swim, hike or bike? Athletes work at building up their bodies to get in “condition” to participate in their favorite sport. There is something about rigorous exercise that can help people to focus on setting goals for their individual sports–and in setting goals for the rest of life.
This week I read about a man who loved to climb in especially high places. He was exhausted from the hot sun, slope and elevation, but also from carrying baggage. He eased the burden down and rested beside a tree as he listened to a songbird’s music. He eyed the top of the summit and continued his trek without his gear. He celebrated reaching his goal and started back down the mountain. To his surprise, he found his things strewn across the path in several boxes, a large backpack and an overstuffed briefcase. The first box contained mementos like awards, school report cards, and sport trophies. He set the box aside and felt taller, better. Next, he opened the large backpack containing all the beauty he had collected along his journey: some beautiful rocks, a photo of a rainbow and many books that described beauty in the world. He set those aside recalling the beauty from atop the mountain. Again, he felt a spirit of growth and freedom.
Next, he pored over the briefcase and found it stuffed with concerns, issues and initiatives that had inflamed his spirit and impassioned his actions. For some reason these things seemed less important. The overstuffed briefcase was placed with the other discarded items. The mature hiker felt more youthful–and taller. He realized that most of the baggage was no longer needed, except for a small backpack which he removed from the discarded items. Being relieved of multiple burdens and feeling rejuvenated, the hiker continued on with a hammer, saw, a few other tools and a bamboo flute. He gazed back at trail of the worn baggage he had carried so long and realized his journey had ended. Renewed in spirit, he played the flute and walked into the valley of his future. You may recognize this account as an allegory.
Today’s New Testament reading is a familiar story related in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus is transformed, changed externally for a few short moments–dazzling white and then returned to his normal appearance. What happened to Peter, James and John, who had accompanied him up the mountain? They were definitely changed–maybe not externally and not just momentarily. They were internally and permanently transformed to a new relationship with God. The Transfiguration of Jesus and its ability to transform the disciples challenges us to see our need to change, drop the past, and look to the brightness of the future. Rather than concentrating on what happened to Jesus, this stunning event is best understood by centering on what happened to the disciples.
After seeing Jesus in all his radiant glory, the disciples would never again be able to see him as a mere man. There could be no doubt that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah. White clothes are associated in Judaism with the apocalypse. Elijah and Moses appear to talk with Jesus. Elijah’s re-appearance was expected as a sign of the appearance of the Messiah. Moses’ appearance related to his parallel experience reported in Exodus 24. Moses had experienced the glory of God while atop the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. His face reflected the glory of God and he wore a veil over his face for the rest of his life to diminish the brightness, so people could look at him. The disciples had seen Jesus transformed on the mountain, observed him in conversation with Moses and Elijah and heard the Father speak from the heavens, “This is my Son, listen to him.” Seeing and hearing Jesus in a new light transformed their thinking about him but also challenged them to realize that as Jesus changed, they must change if they were going to continue to be his disciples. What direction would they move in the future? Whatever baggage the disciples had taken from the past before their call from Jesus, would have to be changed. By dropping their baggage they could become transfigured in spirit. Christ was inviting them to walk a new road–albeit an uncertain road, but–they were asked to have sufficient faith to let go of the past and move forward.
Leaving the past and moving to a new future is an integral part of the salvation history in the New Testament. Mary’s call to be the mother of Jesus demonstrates one’s willingness to accept change and move forward. Whatever Mary had planned had to be cancelled and an uncertain future journey initiated. Mary accepted God’s invitation, confident that if she placed her trust in God, things would work out fine. The past was left behind and God’s plan for the salvation of humankind entered into its climatic stage.
The uncertainty of new beginnings, fresh starts in life, raises fear among many people. We tend to cling to the past as a source of strength. We find confidence in what is known and lose our sense of security when we are asked to move from our level of “comfortableness.” We can weigh ourselves down with past burdens and impede our forward movement in a new direction. Why be prisoners of the past? Why not let go of the past, free to move into the future? Through complete trust in God we can let go and move into our future. “Let go, and let God” is the old adage.
There is a tale about a group of botanists in the Amazon rainforest looking for rare and potentially non-catalogued forms of plant life. A leader of the expedition spotted a flower he had never seen while looking through his binoculars down a steep canyon. He wondered how someone could get down the steep canyon to obtain the specimen. A young boy happened upon the scene and one of the botanists offered him money if he would allow himself to be lowered over the side of the cliff on a rope to retrieve the rare flower. The boy agreed after saying, “Wait one minute.” He left and returned with an older man. The boy said, “Now, I will go over the side and get that flower for you but only if this man hold the rope. He is my father.” Who do we trust when we are challenged to drop the past and move in a new direction? Do we trust others, our father or family members, or our God in heaven? The choice is up to you.