God has blessed each of our lives with the gift of free will. God wants us to understand, though, that our lives belong to him, our lives are in his hands and there is an ultimate destiny for us that we cannot reach by own will power alone.
“Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.” When we hear the word “Took” in English, we might get the idea that Jesus decided to go up the mountain and that Peter, James and John went with him. Maybe he decided to take them because he wanted them to come along. Maybe he took them because they wanted to go with him. Either way, he led them up the mountain. In the Greek language of his day, St. Mark chose a surprising word for the verb to “take,” ANAPHEREI, which meant to carry something in an uward direction. When I was a boy I used to have to carry the old Hoover Vacuum cleaner up the stairs. ANAPHEREI. It sounds like Jesus carried Peter, James and John up the mountain. I can think of two reasons why we carry people: (1) they are not capable of walking, or moving themselves; and (2) they do not want to go to the place they are being taken. In other words, Jesus made Peter, James and John go up that mountain with him because they didn’t want to go up there.
Why? Because just before this Transfiguration scene, Jesus told his apostles that the Son of Man would go to Jerusalem where he would suffer at the hands of Jewish authorities, he would be put to death on a cross and three days later he would rise again. The three apostles didn’t want Jesus to go through with this plan of suffering, dying and rising. They believed Jesus was the Messiah, but to their way of thinking, the Messiah was supposed to do something very different. He was supposed to free Jerusalem from the grip of the Roman Empire and restore God’s holy people to favored status once again. The Messiah was supposed to be a great military and political figure, along with being a holy man. The Messiah was never supposed to suffer or die. They didn’t want to go up that mountain because they felt like they had been duped. Here they just proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, and now he told them that he was going to do something different than what they wanted him to do. So Jesus literally had to force Peter, James and John to go up that mountain with him.
And it’s a good thing they went, too. Because when they saw Jesus transfigured, and talking to Moses and Elijah, they saw the glorified Christ, the Messiah. They heard God say “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” In this moment they knew that Jesus was a far more powerful Messiah than they could have ever dreamed of because they saw him in his divine and human nature.
During Lent the Church asks us to carry out works of prayer, fasting and charity, but we have free will and can choose to ignore these penitential acts. The disciplines of Lent challenge us to work through the stubbornness of our expectations of what the Messiah is supposed to be. Like Peter, James and John we are often content with what we think is a satisfactory image of who Jesus is, and what the sacrament of the Eucharist is all about.
So often people see the Eucharist as this nice, comforting source of grace that blesses us with a warm, almost magically good feeling. But that’s not the only gift the Eucharist provides. The Eucharist nourishes and strengthens our souls so that we can take up the cross of discipleship. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Anyone who claims the name of Catholic and Christian is called to accept the cross of discipleship. If we are going to take any real satisfaction in the fact that we receive the risen and glorified Body of Christ in this sacred meal, that means we have to understand that the Eucharist is not as much about what we receive for ourselves, as it is the fact that we are to reveal the living presence of Jesus Christ to others.
Therefore, we freely choose to take up our crosses which demand penitence. But that is not all. We are to love others as Christ has loved us. If we are to authentically share in this sacred meal, we allow his life to transform us. That means we will have a keen eye on how we can serve the needs of the poor here in our area and throughout the world. To allow his living presence to transform our lives we embrace the discipline of prayer so that his spirit of grace will enable us to reveal God’s presence to others who need to be blessed as well. Our world needs forgiveness. Our world needs peace. Our world longs to know and see that Jesus Christ is present and very much at work in us.
The cross without Calvary is self-will running amok in a chaotic world. If we are to authentically embrace the fact that we are disciples, we will allow the living Christ to carry us to the mountain of revelation so that we can see the glory of his presence in our lives, and hear the voice of God tell us, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”