13 March 2022
Second Sunday of Lent
Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
It was not long time ago since the war in Syria showed us the signs of destruction over the beautiful city of Aleppo. Nobody could believe that such a beautiful and ancient city could have been ruthlessly and cruelly destroyed, leaving thousands of families and their children without water, electricity and food for months. It is happening again in Ukraine and it is not just tragic, but dramatic for what looks like another massive exodus of refugees fleeing from war, violence and destruction. At the same time we are seeing a great deal of solidarity going on everywhere in the UK and many countries in Europe, which is certainty beautiful and deeply moving. We all feel we ought to do something, even if we feel powerless before this insane conflict.
What does it mean to us to celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration in such an appalling scenario? It seems to me that the vision of a bright future has been suddenly blurred. Perhaps more than ever we feel that the image of a peaceful continent has been inevitably marred. Two years of pandemic already damaged our confidence in a world that we thought it was predictable, and now a war happening at the doorstep of our continent seems also to blur the vision of a peace for everyone. More than Transfiguration we would be talking of Disfiguration. Humanity is brutally disfigured when violence prevails over dialogue. Can we still see sign of Transfiguration in our world ripped apart by violence and war?
Perhaps a contemplative look at the Transfiguration depicted by Raffaello, the Italian High Renaissance Master, could help us answer this question. Although Raffaello could not finish the painting because of his health, it is still one of the most magnificent scene ever depicted of the Glory of the Lord.
If you have the opportunity to look at the painting, pay attention at the solemnity of the scene. The transfigured Christ floats in an aura of light and clouds above the hill, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Below, on the ground, are his disciples. Some are dazzled by the light of glory, others are in prayer. The gestures of the crowd beholding at the miracle link the two parts together: the raised hands of the crowd converge toward the figure of Christ. It is absolutely spectacular.
If I were a film director, I would probably have some powerful Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack music to uplift the moment when the bright cloud overshadowed them and the voice from the cloud proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”. That’s the climax of a powerful revelation and a very thrilling moment of glory for Jesus.
Then the following scene seems to be quite disappointing. The disciples fall to the ground, and when they look up they see no one except Jesus himself alone. Just him. Nobody else. They should have probably thought that it was just a dream, but then Jesus confirms what they saw by ordering them: “Do not tell about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”.
We have two movements in this scene: in the first movement the extraordinary and glorious vision of the Lord Jesus among the prophets Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophecy, is absorbed in the person of Jesus. In the second movement, there is silence. Jesus is alone with the disciples. It is Jesus’ humanity what they see, which resume in itself the humanity of the whole world as It will do on Good Friday. It is the humanity that is extremely vulnerable and far too often subject of the violence and brutality of other human beings who suffer from a delirium of omnipotence and abuse over and over of their power instead of using it to serve the people that are meant to be representing.
What is consistently present in the two movements of the scene is the disciples’ puzzlement. Firstly they are confused and overwhelmed by the vision and secondly even more confused by the presence of Jesus alone. I can imagine them trying to make sense of what they just witnessed. The glorious Jesus is the same Jesus with whom they live. It is the same one who eats, drinks and shares his life on a daily basis with them. “Jesus alone”. The end of this scene is profoundly rich and meaningful as well as mysterious. Once more it seems rather challenging to uncover his divinity in his humanity.
We are not different from the disciples, we share the same puzzlement. Think of our worshipping experience.
There are moments when we can feel uplifted by the love of God to the point of experiencing his grace in our lives. The Word of God can touch us through the gospel, or while we are singing a hymn, or when we pray and meditate the Scriptures on our own. It is that unique instant when we have a vision of who Jesus really is in our lives and in a blink of an eye everything seems to make sense, even in the violent and sometimes very cruel world we live in. More than ever we experience it as real. This is the contemplative side of our life.
Nevertheless, we then have to come back to our daily life. The contemplative vision seems to disappear, and what is left is our humanity with our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The same humanity that Jesus assumes becoming a man. What do we see when we go out there? “Jesus alone”. Who and where is he?
Our faith tells us that when we meet any other human being, we meet him. In this sense he is very much one of us because we are part of him. As a matter of fact, we are in him. Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really struggle to see him in other people. This it might be because our Lord did not transfigure our humanity in something different from what we are. We have a body with limitations: we get sick, tired, stressed, and are essentially mortal beings. Moreover, we are influenced by our five senses. We react to bad or good smell in very different ways, and modify -and sometimes base- our judgement on the way people would look or talk, smell or dress as well as other people would do with us. “I love humanity but I hate humans, “Albert Einstein used to say. Well, there isn’t such a thing as “humanity”, but there are human beings. People who we like or dislike, love, hate or despise, to whom we could be sympathetic or maybe completely indifferent. All this dynamic is part of our human condition, which has been fully taken on by Jesus. And this is the beauty and powerful meaning of today’s gospel: Jesus alone.
He exalts our humanity by making it fully human. This is the reason why it is so important for us to come back to the world after seeing the vision up in the mountain. It is not a coincidence that the first thing Jesus does after coming down the mountain is to cure the boy with a demon. Jesus shows the disciples that the vision is not complete if they are unable to restore the dignity of those whose humanity has been diminished, devalued and denigrated. This is why solidarity is so important to us because it is an essential part of our mission. We are sent to proclaim the gospel and the kingdom of justice, where nobody would be left behind, isolated, and excluded.
Every time we help a homeless, a needy, or a Ukrainian refugee family or simply our neighbour we take part in God’s mission to redeem this world from the ongoing evil plan of dehumanisation. In the light of this message we make sense of Jesus’ words to the disciples while descending the mountain: ““Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
The vision can be mistaken and become a source of misunderstanding, if we don’t set ourselves to the work of mission and evangelization we are called to carry out. The Transfiguration is a glimpse into God’s life and love, but it is in the resurrection of Jesus where we find the real source of spiritual transformation. The Transfiguration is pointing us towards the right direction, but our journey begins when we may feel transformed by the light of the resurrection and work for the redemption of this world. A world that more than ever needs to be humanised and embraced by the love of God.