Mary the Queen Parish
6 August 2006
Fr. Johnny Go S.J., School Director
Here’s a painting of the Transfiguration by the Italian artist Raphael. This 16th century painting of the Transfiguration of Christ was his final work , and is believed to have been left unfinished by the artist and completed only by one of his pupils.
The painting has all the elements of our Gospel reading today. At the very center we have the transfigured Lord, with light emanating from behind Him. He stands between the two great Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. And below them, we find the three awestruck disciples—Peter, James, and John—as though awakened from sleep.
The Transfiguration is a significant moment because it is the one single event before the Resurrection when our Lord reveals to His disciples Who He really is in a most dramatic way.
But what strikes me as unusual about this event is not so much the dazzling and dramatic details of it. After all, we do expect something awesome and miraculous from the Son of God. Himself Rather, what strikes me about it is its frequency—or more precisely its lack of frequency. Why did our Lord do this only once in His earthly life? He was always complaining about his disciples not understanding Him, not knowing Who He is. Shouldn’t he then have conducted a couple more Transfigurations for them just to get His message across? In fact, even after this Transfiguration, this privileged trio—Peter, James, and John—still failed to understand Him.
Come to think of it, what I am saying about the Transfiguration, we could also just as easily say about our Lord’s miracles. There were just too few of them! Considering that He lived for 33 years, don’t you think that He could have performed a little bit more if only to help His cause? If our Lord really wanted to get people to believe in Him, why didn’t He heal more lepers, exorcise more demons, and raise more than just Lazarus and that little girl back to life? I could go on: Why not turn more water into wine, multiply a few more baskets of fish and bread, and walk on more bodies of water?
The question then is: Why did our Lord’s divinity have to be so well-concealed, showing forth only on certain selected occasions? Why not be more obvious about being God?
When we think about it, this question also applies to the way God operates in our world today. God is anything but self-evident! He is anything but obvious! Did He have to create this universe in a way that virtually removes any clue of His role in it? Even life and human consciousness itself appear to have emerged through a purely natural evolutionary process. And look at the way God runs the world: He respects the natural laws and rarely intervenes, if at all, in a way that suspends these laws. Look at the way He runs our lives: He doesn’t seem to be present or active because He insists on respecting our freedom, allowing us to run—and ruin—our lives. In all this He seems to have pushed Himself to the periphery of creation. He has made Himself virtually absent. So how can we blame people for not believing?
The question I’d like to address to God today is: “Why are You hiding? Why don’t You be more obvious about Who You are and where You are? We could use a little more help, a few more clues about You. We don’t mind a few more miracles and dramatic Transfigurations.” I think many of you will agree that life would be so much simpler.
Mystics and theologians do not deny this about God. Many of them have written that ours is “a God Who hides.” That God hides is clear. Why He hides is not so clear; this we don’t understand. This hiddenness of God—this “Divine Modesty,” if we can call it that—is most evident in the life and person of our Jesus of Nazareth: He was the most ordinary of men, living in the most ordinary of places and times. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul calls this “kenosis”—literally, “self-emptying”—i.e., God empties Himself, as it were, of His divinity, so that the divinity is hidden during the life of Jesus, but most especially during His Passion and death on the cross.
As I was thinking about all this and basically complaining about God’s habit of hiding, I realized that He could also just as easily complain about me. There have been many times in my life when I went into hiding from him—times when I preferred not to have Him around, to go about my own private business, not to be reminded about those pesky do’s and don’t’s. I’m sure you know what I mean and probably have had similar sentiments and experiences in your life.
So as I was thinking about all this, I remembered a story I heard some years ago. And it goes something like this:
One day a kid decided to play hide-and-seek with his neighbors. He was particularly proud of a special talent that he had, a talent that allowed him to the most difficult hiding places, places that the other kids could never find. So when the game began, he eagerly volunteered to be the “it.” And he did a great job, painstakingly seeking each and every playmate until he found each and everyone of them. Then when it was another child’s turn to be “it,” he immediately ran to what he considered the hardest-to-find hiding place in the neighborhood—a little discarded box behind a tree. He giggled as he inserted himself into it, and waited eagerly for his playmates to try to find him. He waited and waited, and because his hiding place was truly hard to find, he waited for a really long time, until he fell asleep. When he woke up who knows how many hours later, he realized in glee that he had still not been found. So he carefully crawled out of the box only to realize that the sun had already set and all his playmates were nowhere to be found. They had all already gone home. When he realized this, he cried all the way home, and complained to his mom about how unfair his playmates had been because when it was their turn to hide, he did not give up looking for them, but when it was his turn to hide, they all gave up and went home.
Aren’t we all often a little bit like this child’s playmates when it comes to our relationship with God? We hide from God all the time, but He looks for us, and He refuses to give up looking for us. But the moment God hides, we don’t like it, and we complain, and like the kid’s playmates in the story, we eventually give up on Him. We go home.
Maybe today as we reflect about the Transfiguration—that all-too-rare event in His life and also an all-too-rare event in our world today--maybe God is reminding us not to give up looking for Him because appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, He is very much present in the world. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, He is very much present in our lives.
And He wants to be found.
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