Whether personally or professionally or spiritually, we long for what’s next. We hope that it — whatever it is — will be bigger and better and more beautiful than anything we know now or have ever known in the past. We long for more.
Think about it.
What happens when you get a job? Well, at some point, you want a new job. What happens when you get a raise? At some point, you “need” another one. What if you’re in a relationship for a couple of years and you start to get bored? Perhaps you start to wonder what else is out there.
We long for what’s next. We long for what could be. We long for more.
Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, right? People who do good work and like a good challenge might be of better service in a more advanced role. Making more money may mean helping others financially or financial stability for your family for the first time or starting your child’s college fund. Even spiritually, we need growth — advancement. That’s what this is all about, right? Trying, day after day, to become more like Jesus.
That’s what today’s Gospel is about — a “transfiguration,” which the dictionary defines as a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ transfiguration offers us some perspective. First of all, as you begin to change — to transform yourself — the people around you might not even be able to understand what’s going on, no matter how close they are to you or how much they want to understand. In Jesus’ case, Peter, John and James were half-asleep and had no clue what was happening. Even afterward, some might argue they were missing the point of this moment with Jesus and Moses and Elijah — even after the voice of God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him!”
There, so far, has been no better example of this first point for me than when I realized I was gay and came out to close friends and family. As I gradually began to understand this core truth about who I was — who God created me to be — and began to more fully embrace this reality — some people missed the point entirely. Perhaps it was for lack of paying attention — perhaps they, too, like Peter, John and James — were half-asleep. Perhaps it was for lack of perspective — they hadn’t been through this moment or ever experienced it before, so they didn’t really understand it.
But with time can come experience and education. As the years went on and as I grew more and more into the fullness of who God called me to be, and continued to articulate that more clearly, friends and family continued their own journeys alongside me, each going to places they had never been before or perhaps never would’ve gone had it not been for this one single moment of truthfulness.
Which brings me to my next point — a God-given transfiguration is a transformation into a more truthful state of being — one that allows you to be who you really are — no exceptions.
Jesus did not deny who he was. Ever. No matter the consequences. No matter the exclusion. No matter what the “religious people” of his time had to say about it. He was who he was. No matter the fear. And transfiguration does involve fear. Peter, John and James were “terrified” as that cloud came down and overshadowed them on that mountain.
For us, transforming ourselves into who God called us to be may not only be scary for those around us. It can be scary for us, too. Many of us fear the unknown. We fear a lack of control, which — if we’re honest — we never really had to begin with. We fear losing friends and family. We fear having to do something out of our comfort zone. We fear failure. And once we begin this transfiguration — which is really a lifelong journey into being more and more like Jesus — there’s no telling where the Holy Spirit will guide us if we let it.
Perhaps that’s the biggest truth about transfiguration for most of us: true transfiguration occurs not on the mountaintops, but in the valleys and the deserts of life. To truly transform our lives in Christ, we must get right down into the messiness of life and get to work doing the things we’ve been called by God to do. To love others and to serve them, especially “the least of these,” Jesus says.
Your job and my job as followers of Christ and as a people who are relentlessly working to be transformed is not to always be understood by all people. Nor is it to avoid controversy in favor of calmness and comfortability. Nor is it to always completely understand where we’re going before we get there.
Our job is to love God, love our neighbors, and put goodness and kindness and compassion out into this world through service to others. By advocating for “the least of these.” By helping others on their transformative journeys. By maintaining this posture of radical love and inclusion in the example set by Jesus himself, especially toward people who need it the most when they need it the most and where they need it the most.