The Truth of Blinking
February 17, 2008
It is a scientific fact that the average person blinks twenty five times every minute. It is also scientifically verifiable that the average blink lasts one fifth of a second. What this means is that if you were to take a ten-hour automobile trip, driving at fifty miles per hour, you would drive fifty miles of that trip with your eyes closed. (Now aren’t you glad you came today? Where else can you get this kind of information?) But hidden in that scientific statistic is an important truth about life. In life we see certain things very clearly, but there are also other things, which we do not see, things to which our eyes are shut. And much like the experience of blinking, we are largely unaware of the things we do not see, of the things to which are eyes are closed.
Now this is what makes the transfiguration in today’s gospel so important for the disciples. They thought they knew Jesus. They walked with him. They ate with him. They saw him heal. They heard him preach. Yet they were largely unaware of how much of Jesus they did not see. In the transfiguration, they receive a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, a flash of his brilliance which normally they did not see. In the transfiguration, they were confronted with the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection which they had not begun to anticipate. The transfiguration told the disciples that Jesus was more than they had ever imagined, that as much as they knew about him, there was even more that they did not know.
This experience of the transfiguration provides us with a model of discipleship. A model which tells us that as we try to live our lives, we must claim the things that we can see, the things that are visible, but at the same time, we must remember that there are many things that we do not see. The model for discipleship is then a combination of wisdom and humility: of wisdom to know what is visible, of humility to remember that there is even more that we do not understand.
Parents need this model. They are charged to share what they see, their wisdom, with their children. They are charged to warn their children about what they feel is harmful and to guide them to the decisions which they see as the best decisions. But even as they exercise that wisdom for the sake of their children, parents must remember that there is a part of every child which they do not see, a part that is only now emerging. Parents must respect that part which they cannot see. It is the only way in which their children will grow to be the persons God wants them to be.
You and I must use this model of discipleship every time we interact with people who are different than us, people of a different race, nationality, or sexual orientation. There are things about all of all people which we can clearly see. But we must also remember that there are parts of every person which we do not see. It is only by humbly remembering what we do not see that we can enter into honest dialogue and deeper understanding.
We must be attentive to this model as we deal with people of different faith traditions. As Christians, we proudly claim that Jesus is the way to salvation. Even as we assert that truth, we must at the same time, realize that God is working in the lives of other people in ways which we cannot see. God is active in the lives of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. Their way to God is something we cannot understand because it is not our way. Yet we must respect their witness of faith.
This model of discipleship lastly is crucial as we deal with the reality of evil in our lives. As followers of Christ, we believe that all good gifts come from God. So whenever we are blessed in any way, we rightly claim that this is a sign of God caring and loving us. But when we experience evil in our life, we must humbly admit that we do not understand its presence. We cannot explain why the innocent suffer, why millions of people die from disease and natural disasters. We do not understand, we cannot see the reason or the meaning of evil. It is better to claim that we do not see, than to adopt explanations that warp the goodness and love of God for us.
A disciple of Jesus is called to follow him in wisdom and in humility: in the wisdom which claims the truth we can see, in the humility which admits that there are other truths that we cannot see. Both wisdom and humility are necessary. Not to claim the truth which we can see is to be a fool. Not to admit that there is the truth which we cannot see is to be a bigot. The follower of Christ strives to be neither a fool nor a bigot. We try to be both wise and humble. We try to remember that we blink. Even as we move forward in the vision that is given to us, we also acknowledge that there are truths to which we are blinded. This is the only way to growth. This is the only way to follow the Master.
The Command to Remember
March 20, 2011
The most important line in today’s gospel is the last line, where Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Now, usually when we consider this verse, we puzzle over the first part. Why did Jesus tell the disciples to remain quiet and not tell the vision to anyone? But it is really the second part of the verse that is most significant. Because the second part of the verse implies that the disciples should remember the vision.
What this second half of the verse tells us is that Jesus wants the disciples to remember what happened to them on the mountain, because a time will come later in their lives when that vision will be useful, perhaps even necessary. The disciples’ experience on the mountain was a special one, a life-changing one. They quaked; they rejoiced; they saw things differently. They saw Jesus and their own lives in a new way. Jesus charges them to remember that vision because later on it will be important. It must be proclaimed.
Now, everyone of us has mountaintop experiences in our life. A time when everything changes, a time when we see life in a new way, when we are swept off our feet. It might be the first time that we met our future spouse and realized that he or she was the “one”. It might be the moment when we recognized what we wanted to do in life, what our vocation would be, when we were called to build, to design, to teach, to heal, to sell, to organize the world around us. It might be the first time that we held a newly born son or daughter in our arms and realized both, with joy and with fear, that life would never again be the same.
Jesus charges us to remember those transforming moments, those mountaintop experiences, because they have the power to help us live. But in what sense do they do this? In what sense do these transfiguration moments guide us and direct us? When we remember a transformative moment later in our life, it has the power to revive us. It revives us by recalling for us our initial enthusiasm and excitement and challenges us to use that enthusiasm and excitement as a way to break the routine of boredom and ingratitude.
For example, we can remember the initial thrill of falling in love or beginning a life-long friendship. For some of us that’s looking back over twenty, forty, fifty years, and much has changed in that time. The relationship in which we are now standing may have taken on the attitude of ordinary routine. Conversations might become limited only to the daily transfer of information. We might stand in the other’s presence and see that presence as expected and barely appreciate it. We need to remember the original transfiguring moment: the time when laughter came easily, when conversations could go on for hours, when we would fight for even a few moments to be in the other’s presence. Recalling that life-changing time gives us the power to re-introduce excitement and passion into our relationships.
We might recall the moment when we decided how we were going to spend our lives: what we were going to do, how we could make a difference by teaching or healing. We need to remember the excitement of that time to realize that our present work is more than just earning a paycheck, that there are possibilities even now that can change others for the better. Remembering that initial moment revives the work that we do and the time that we spend.
Jesus calls us to remember those moments that changed our lives because we need them now. In remembering them, we recognize them as God’s gift—a gift that we can use as we live today to live our own lives more deeply and with abiding gratitude.