There are many surprises in our lives. Twenty-seven years ago, I never dreamed of being a priest in America! I did not have any idea that I would be standing in front of you today preaching! The point is, The Holy Spirit never ceases to surprise us; surprise us with joy, surprise us with sorrow; surprise us with ups and downs. These surprises sometime are pleasing to us; at other times they are shocking us. The ultimate question is: How ready am I to listen to the Lord speaking to me? Neither in a special vision, nor in appearances, but through my history, through my church, through my family, through my conscience, through the events of my daily life, how am I ready to listen and say yes to God? This Sunday’s readings call us to respond to God’s surprises for us.
God called Abraham, “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Gn 12:1-4). This was a big surprise for Abraham. But at the age of seventy-five, Abraham was willing to respond to God’s surprised calling for him to give up everything -- family, home, and regular routine, comfortable life -- and to head out for a land on the other side of the desert. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews comments, “By faith Abraham obeyed, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8). He merely relied on the strength of God’s word. God was the center of Abraham’s life. Saying yes to God was most important to Abraham. When Abraham arrived at his destination, he set up an altar and offers a sacrifice to God. Abraham represents the unknown factor in our faith, and he is a model for us to put our trust in God’s love. Like Abraham, we also do not know where we are to go. We already know that we did not come into this world with a ready-made script for our earth-bound life. None of us could have written the actual story of our lives. The movements, the comedies and tragedies, the ups and downs that have brought us where we are now, made us the persons we actually are, but we do not know what will happen next. Our challenge is to say yes to God’s surprises for us in life.
Jesus was taking his disciples up a mountain where he transfigured himself. Moses and Elijah came to talk with Him. He heard God’s voice of confirmation. The disciples were so excited and at awe. They requested that they should stay there. We wonder why did Jesus take the disciples up the mountain to pray? Why did he transfigure himself? The preface clarifies for us, “On your holy mountain he revealed himself in glory in the presence of his disciples. He had already prepared them for his approaching death. He wanted to teach them through the Law and the Prophets that the promised Christ had first to suffer and so come to the glory of his resurrection.”
Jesus took the disciples up a mountain to pray for guidance and assurance. Before taking a trip to Hawaii, Europe, the Holy Land, China, and Vietnam or around the world, we must make preparations of various kinds. Any traveler knows this. For Jesus, up to this time He had been mostly working in his native Galilee. Now that he was planning a trip to Jerusalem, He sensed that he was facing the destiny of his mission as the Messiah. He was to suffer and die there as Messiah, a violent death. The thought of it scared Him. He needed confirmation, assurance and approval from the Father to take this important trip. Jesus also knew that His disciples were going to be tested severely, and they needed such a vision to strengthen them. They would watch their Master die a brutal death.
At the transfiguration, the disciples saw more clearly what life with Jesus would ultimately entail. While they were severely tested every day of their lives, they believed that at the end they would be with God in glory. The promise of a transformed life, interiorly here on earth, and completely in heaven, sustained and empowered them to persevere in their calling. Jesus was strengthened when He heard God’s voice, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:1-9). After this experience, Jesus was able to lead his disciples to Jerusalem and facing his death for our sins. And His disciples were able to follow Him to Jerusalem.
The story of the transfiguration is a good example and a lesson for all of us. We are not different from these disciples. Living a Christian life, and being witnesses for the Gospel in the world today, our faith will be challenged and tested. We also need confirmation and assurance. Like Jesus and the disciples, prayer will give us strength and assurance while facing the difficulties of life. Jesus went up a mountain to seek divine guidance in quiet prayer. Every one of us needs to get away from living the half-life, under cover of darkness, and the business of this life in order to discover what God’s plan is for us. We need periods of peace and tranquility so that God’s voice is not crowded out. In prayer we will be able to listen to God’s voice and be strengthened. God wants us to listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus means to follow him in his passage through suffering to joy.
St. Paul clarifies God’s call for us in the second reading, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our working but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ” (2 Tim 1:8b-10). Coming down from the mountain, Jesus leads his disciples to Jerusalem. We also have to go down the mountain to witness and serve, to carry a cross. We are on the road to Calvary and are constantly tested by disappointments and trials on the way. Christ promises a heavenly future to all who are willing to share the hardship on this journey with him. The Transfiguration of Jesus gives us inspiration and hope. It does not remove or take away our problems, but it helps us to face them bravely, to put our trust in God as we meet the challenges of our daily living. It helps us to foresee the glory that we are going to share with Jesus. It helps us to remember that Jesus is always with us to give us strength.
A man dreamed he died and went to heaven and there was met by Jesus. The man had lived a long Christian life, but it had not been without some times of great trial and tribulation as well as those times of joy and victory. As he met with Christ, the man was given a panoramic review of his life -- all the highlights and low periods. In the review of his life one of the things that continued throughout were his footsteps along the sands of time.
The man noticed that at those times in his life when it had really been rough there was only one set of footprints -- not two as in the good times. The man turned to the Lord and said, “Lord, I don’t understand. You promised to be with me always. But when I look back now, I see that in those really rough times there was only one set of footprints. Lord, why did you leave me then?”
The Lord looked at him, smiled, and said, “Leave you? I didn’t leave you at all. Dear friend, if you look at the footprints carefully, you’ll notice they are a little deeper than the others. Those were the times I was carrying you.” (Wharton, Paul J. Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers, pp. 70-71).