No matter how ordinary and even dull our faith life may feel on a day to day basis, I think I am right in surmising that for all of us there have been some peak moments that stand out as summits in our faith experience. Today's gospel narrative presents us with one such experience in the discipleship journey of three of the apostles, an experience that Peter will relish recalling later on in his second letter. As gospel narrative today's reading contains some lessons for us.
One lesson is the recognition of a very human inclination to seize an encouraging experience and attempt to make it permanent, to “build three tents” there. When we feel spiritually consoled or are given a keen awareness of God's presence with us, we may very much desire that the moment would never end, now that we “have arrived”. That seems to be how Peter felt then. It is interesting that the “voice from the cloud” actually interrupts Peter “while he was still speaking”, as if telling him to keep quiet and stop making no sense. Peaks and valleys are both part of the beauty of life's landscape. A peak stretched out without boundaries would be as flat and potentially as monotonous as a low lying plain, no matter how high its elevation. It is the existence of valleys that renders peaks so majestic and awe-inspiring.
Another lesson flows precisely from the very transient and indeed exceptional nature of that experience of transfiguration. The apostles and disciples encountered and followed a Jesus that did not appear to them as trans-figured at all, and even for the three privileged ones of today's gospel reading the experience was a clear exception. In our own faith experience of Jesus' presence in our lives we often encounter Jesus rather as dis-figured in the flawed human beings we interact with on a daily basis and even in our own selves. Dis-figured in a Church riddled with scandals, in the poor who do not meet our standards of appearance or manners, in the real limitations of the very people we love and want to love, in the flawed implementation of who we ourselves desire to be. It is here that our tents are pitched, not on some exceptional experience of transfiguration. However recognizing the dis-figured Lord is not quite spontaneous for us, it is gift — a gift God desires to give, but also a gift we need to desire to receive.
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