by Very Rev. Jamin Scott David
I remember when I took my comprehensive exam for my canon law degree. All of us had to go, one by one, before a panel of three of our professors. For two hours, they grilled us about anything and everything that they wanted to know about the Code of Canon Law. We could only be armed with the book itself. After we were done, we stood in the hall while the three faculty members graded us and decided whether we passed or failed. One of them, a representative, would come out and either give us a thumbs up or a thumbs down. And do you know that two of my classmates who were nervous as all get out – even though they paid some $125,000 on tuition and even though their bishop sponsored them – they still failed.
In these situations, we come face to face with fear. How are we supposed to react? What are we supposed to say? We often feel like we have to say something, but it ends up being the wrong thing in retrospect. But maybe that’s the point of today’s Gospel – to recognize the transformative power of presence.
In today’s Gospel, Peter has the exact same situation. He along with James and John see Jesus transformed in a rather weird experience. And when it happens, he doesn’t know what to say. It was dramatic and mystical, and he was terrified. He sees Moses and Elijah – the two figures that represented the coming of the end of time as God’s messengers – but he fumbles.
Why this vision you might ask? About a week before the Transfiguration, Jesus told them he would have to suffer and die – not quite what you expect out of the Messiah. As soon as Peter says “You are the Messiah,” Jesus talks about suffering and death and not glory at all. And the disciples don’t want to hear it; they refuse to admit the possibility. It’s probably why Peter wanted to stay on the mountain and enjoy the experience. The reason for the vision was to empower Jesus and the disciples with the strength and vision to enter this way through suffering together. And it renders Peter speechless.
Aren’t there situations in life that leave us speechless? There are situations of personal loss and world drama. And sometimes what we say is an intrusion in comparison with the gravity of despair around us. There are Peters in our life who didn’t offer us much more than foolish talk when we were sick; we’ve been like Peter too, constantly sticking our foot in our mouth when we don’t know what to say.
I think that’s the invitation of the Gospel today. Transfiguration surely awaits all of us. If we are comforters, transfiguration will come as we acknowledge openly and honestly our own suffering and confusion. If we are afflicted, transfiguration awaits us when we seek the presence of those who have suffered before us. Just be you and be present; and you’ll be speechless at how transformative simple presence can really be!