Part of the theology that most of us inherited taught that our journey of faith was one of living our lives "according to God's plan", of accepting our state in life - whatever it may be - as part of His will for us and submitting to the sometimes unreasonable demands that we seem to think He makes upon us. The soul is spirit, noble, most God-like. The flesh is lowly, corruptible, and definitely mortal. We were trained to struggle against the desires of the body, to subdue, to repress. Our ultimate goal is our reunion with our God in the heavenly kingdom and our earthly journey is one of "earning" our citizenship in heaven.
At first glance, the readings for the Second Sunday of Lent reinforce these ideas.
In Genesis we listen to God's promise to Abram: "Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can... so shall your descendants be. To your descendants I give all this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates." This, of course, is the same God who a little later on in Genesis will demand that Abram offer the life of his son in sacrifice as proof of his loyalty and faith.
The passage from Philemon reminds us that all is not well with the world nor with us. We are sinners who have turned in small or large ways from the God whom Genesis reminds us has made a covenant with our ancestors and has renewed that covenant with us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some may choose to live according to what they have learned from Christ while others do not. We are to share the sufferings of Christ in order to share in the resurrection of Christ.
And finally, in the Gospel passage, Luke allows us to become witnesses with Peter, James and John, of the Lord's transfiguration. "His face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white". Much later, the disciples would recognize that this mysterious event was not only a preview of the resurrection, but also a vivid reminder that the body as well as the spirit is destined for transforming glory.
The Apostles witnessed a dazzling display of God's glory at the Transfiguration and were overwhelmed with excitement. But they were soon to experience the passion and death of Jesus. These same three will follow Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane. They will see Him fearful, saddened, pleading not to have to suffer and die. They will see Him on the cross apparently abandoned by his Father and overcome by evil. This will betray all their hopes and dreams, and almost destroy their faith.
At first they didn't understand the meaning behind the Transfiguration. Only when He is risen from the dead, will they understand. Only then will they remember the Transfiguration, the promise of the victory and the glory that is the reward at obedience and faithfulness. Only then will they truly understand why He sent them down from the mountain, back to the physical world, which needed - and still needs to be - transformed and transfigured.
Being a people of faith does not mean that we will always be able to find Him present in the ups and downs of our everyday lives. There are few "transfiguration events" in our lives.
Nor does it mean that we are expected to passively sit back and "accept" all of the obstacles and roadblocks we find along the way as being part of some grand plan that He has for us. Citizensip in heaven does not exempt us from the responsibilities of citizenship here on earth. Our mission is the same mission for which Jesus willingly gave His life: "to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
God's plan for us consists in just one thing: that He loves us now, in whatever frame of mind or state of being we find ourselves in and that He will always love us despite ourselves. For us, the meaning of the Transfiguration is that, as Karl Rahner says: "in the dark night of hopelessness the light of God shines, and a human heart finds in God the power which turns dying into victory." The account of the Transfiguration is a reminder that we cannot live our lives above and removed from daily life.
Today we are challenged to transform our lives - to let the glory of God guide us and shine through us to focus on God along the hills and valleys of our journey of faith knowing that God is near, that He understands our pain, and that He will sustain us and carry us through.