Posted on February 18th, 2014
Immediately before the events of today’s Gospel (Matthew 17:1-9), Jesus said, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
How does this happen? An Olympic athlete denies himself through long years of training. It is a temporary denial; the skater or hockey player seeks the glory of a medal.
The denial Christ exhorts us to seeks no glory for the self, but the glory of another. Would you follow Christ? Deny yourself by setting aside your pride.
But this you do not do. You seek your own glory, to gain the upper hand, to find luxury and personal autonomy, with disregard for all but a few friends and family. Too often, everything revolves around yourself.
“If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
What is your cross? It is in the needs of your wife, your husband, your children, your parents, your neighbor.
You cannot say, “I follow Jesus,” but refuse to forgive your husband. You cannot say, “I follow Jesus,” but ignore your neighbor in need.
Loving your spouse will cost you. Sacrificing for your children will cost you. Giving medicine to the sick, rescuing children from the peril of abortion, paying attention to a lonely, needy person – all these will cost you. It will cost you money, and time, and reputation, and the indulgence of your own fleshly desires.
And because all these people around you are sinful, and the proud nature within you tells you to look out for yourself above all, you will become angry, or despairing, or lazy, or bored with it all. It will not seem worth it, and the cross of your vocation, your daily life of caring for your family and neighbors and church will all seem too much, hopeless, helpless, without chance of improvement.
Because of all this, Peter, James, and John, the closest disciples of Jesus, are shown the fullness of His divinity. Jesus is God in the flesh, but they did not fully grasp this. He is their teacher, they have seen extraordinary things in His miracles, and yet He talks of cross and suffering and death.
Really? Is that where it all ends? Is all this for nothing?
The manifesting of Jesus in His full-on glory shows Him to be the Light which enlightens everything, the power animating all creation, everything that is good and beautiful and noble and true.
It also shows them what is ahead. The redemption of human nature, not just glorified in Jesus, but in all those who are joined to Jesus. He radiates light, He is filled with life, all things are beautiful. That’s literally what Peter says: It is beautiful to be here.
They are astounded, and they want to stay. But the work is not up there at the top of the mountain. The way to true glory, the kind of glory that is at the heart of God’s love, is down at the bottom of the mountain, where the cross is. Where is the cross? The cross is where death is, where children are cast aside, where spouses yell at each other and ignore each other, where nations wage war, where random violence brings fear to a peaceful neighborhood. Jesus has not come to perform tricks, but to go head-to-head, toe-to-toe with nekros, death, and everything that deals out death. Jesus has not come for the purpose of giving seminars on the mountain but to rescue those in the valley, the valley of the shadow of death.
I would like to have seen what Peter, James, and John saw. Someday we will. But what the Father’s voice says is that the vision was not for its own sake. What they saw had the purpose of driving them away from their eyes to their ears. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” Hear Him.
If we track the word order in St. Matthew’s Greek, this is even more striking. “Him hear,” says the voice. “‘Him hear.’ And hearing, the disciples fell on their face.” Hearing is what matters. A disciple is a hearer, a hearer of Jesus’ Word.
And the next words the disciples hear tell us everything. Jesus touches them like He touches the many people He healed and raised from death, and He says, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”
When a madman is loose with a gun, the neighborhood is afraid.
When the doctor grimaces as she looks at the test results, the patient is afraid.
When a mother thinks about everything that can go wrong with her child, she is afraid.
When a sinner finally feels in his conscience the full guilt of his sin, he is afraid.
As we gape into the horrible chasm opened up by the grave-diggers, we are afraid.
But for all of this, and to all the world, our Lord, the Transfigured Lord, says, “Do not be afraid.”
He was hounded by a madman in infancy, Herod, who murdered the children of Bethlehem. He knew the sting of betrayal from his close friend. He knew the bite of the nail in His hand and thorn in His brow. He knew the pangs of hunger and chill of cold. He knew the humiliation of a crowd mocking Him, celebrating His death. He felt it all, all the way to the depths of the grave.
All so He could say to Peter, James, and John, and to a world hell-bent on self-destruction, “Arise, do not be afraid.”
Listen to that Word. Hear Him. He forgives your sins, and sends you down the mountain to forgive others. He shows you the life and light that is ahead in the resurrection, and sends you down to the dying to comfort them.
“Tell the vision to no one,” Jesus concludes today’s Gospel, “until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” So He now is. So tell that to everyone. He is risen from the dead, and says to the world, “Arise, and do not be afraid. Deny yourself and live for your neighbor, for what you fear will kill you will actually bring you to life.” +INJ+