God, Love and Clouds

Today’s Gospel, Mark 9:2 through 10, describes the Transfiguration. I’ll be talking about that. Partly. Also Peter, perceptions, and laundry detergent.

It seems like a better idea than getting upset that not everybody calls the second Sunday in Lent “Transfiguration Sunday.”

Or that some folks read this part of the Gospel on a different Sunday. Or that we had a different second Sunday Gospel reading last year. Or that our Feast of the Transfiguration is August 6 this year. And is a Monday.

Occasions for angst abound. I’d rather look at what today’s Gospel says and what’s been said about it. Then think for a bit and see what happens.

Mountains

The second Sunday in Lent was March 12 last year. The Gospel reading was from Matthew that time around.

Public readings of Sacred Scripture predate Christianity by centuries. Like Ezra’s readings and explanations. That’s in Nehemiah 8.

We started doing the current three year cycle somewhere along the line. And that’s another topic, for another day.

Our Mass schedules aren’t exactly what they were two millennia back. That’s okay, since our cultures aren’t exactly what they were, either. (February 4, 2018; November 26, 2017; October 15, 2017)

One more thing before I get going. Matthew says the Transfiguration happened on a mountain, but doesn’t say which one.

I figure if saying which mountain was an important detail, it’d have been recorded.

That hasn’t kept folks from thinking about which particular mountain Matthew meant. Mounts Tabor and Hermon were early favorites. Or maybe it’s the Horns of Hattin, Gebel Germaq, El-Ahmar, Mount Nebo, or some other place.

Or maybe it’s no particular mountain, or the Apostles made the whole thing up.

That doesn’t seem likely.

Jones Very and Getting a Grip

Saying that Christianity is a failed coup attempt aimed at the Sanhedrin set, or maybe the Roman establishment, has been popular lately.

Fashionable, at any rate, in some circles.

Or maybe Jesus was a charismatic faith healer who started believing his own spiel.

It’s reasonable, in a ‘good enough for a story’ sense. But doesn’t explain why folks like Peter and others who knew Jesus preferred death to changing what they said.

Conspiracy theories can be fun, when presented as fiction. But they’re not particularly plausible. (July 21, 2017; May 14, 2017)

Folks saying ‘I’m Jesus’ aren’t as common as wannabe prophets with End Times Bible prophecies, but they happen. The claimants aren’t all alike.

Jones Very was a studious and eccentric poet. He may also be an example of why first cousins shouldn’t have kids. Francis Herman Pencovic called himself Krishna Venta, had his followers do good works, lost a child support suit, and got killed.

And that’s yet another topic.

I figure the Transfiguration happened. Not knowing exactly what mountain it happened on doesn’t bother me. I’ve talked about ‘need to know’ before. Mostly in the ‘coming End Times’ context. (August 20, 2017)

We also don’t know much about Rhoda. The excitable maid gets one mention, in Acts 12:1315. Come to think of it, we don’t know exactly how long Peter kept knocking at the door, waiting for someone to open it.

That wasn’t what I as talking about, though. Let’s see. The Transfiguration. Mountains. Speculations. A 1970s sitcom. Peter. Right.

Thinking, Meditating

There’s quite a bit going on here:

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,
“and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
“Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.
“Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’
“He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
“Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’
“Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.

“As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
“So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.”
(Mark 9:210)

“Dazzling white” reminds me of laundry detergent commercials. I’m pretty sure, though, that this isn’t some sort of prophecy about 20th century broadcast marketing.

I’ve run into speculation that the Transfiguration wasn’t a miracle. Not in the usual sense. (August 13, 2017)

I won’t insist on this, but maybe the Transfiguration was a moment when the our Lord’s nature wasn’t toned down all the way. If that’s so, it’s when a miracle wasn’t happening.

Jesus is human on his mother’s side. Jesus is also the Son of God. One of three persons in the Trinity. Divine. (John 1:14, 3:17; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 232260, 456478)

And God is one.

I don’t understand how that works. Not on an operational level.

I think we stand a far better chance of reverse-engineering this reality’s source code than figuring out how the Almighty is one God and three Persons.

That hasn’t stopped us from thinking about it.1 And meditating on what it means from our viewpoint. (Catechism, 233; “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, I, 31, 1)

About that last verse, Mark 9:10, I see it as another example of the Apostles realizing what they’d signed on for — after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. (November 26, 2017)

I think we understand a bit more today. The Transfiguration is a sort of sneak preview of God’s kingdom. And one of the Trinity’s public appearances. (Catechism, 554556)

“…the whole Trinity appears—the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud…”
(“Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, III, 45, 4)

Clouds

Peter, James and John most likely had no trouble realizing that the voice from the cloud was God’s.

The Almighty had used a cloud to say ‘I’m here’ before. (Exodus 9:1335, 13:21, 20:20, 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10)

On the whole, I’d prefer living my life without needing a visible reminder that God is real, present, and paying attention. ‘Burning bush’ and ‘plagues of Egypt’ events make good cinematic spectacle. Up close and personal? That’s another matter.

The Transfiguration is in Matthew 17:18 and Luke 9:2836 too. John 1:14 has the same message: that Jesus is God’s son. But it’s not a ‘Transfiguration’ account.

Accounts of our Lord’s baptism have pretty much the same message: Matthew 3:1317; Mark 1:111; Luke 3:2123.

“Listen to him” strikes me as good advice:

“While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’
“When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.
“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’
“And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.”
(Matthew 17:58)

Acting Like Love Matters

‘Mountaintop experiences’ are a big deal, apparently. I haven’t had one, and might not know what to do if I did. Or what to think of it.

Health issues being what they are, I’d reasonably wonder if my blood sugar levels needed attention. I’ve learned that noticing my emotions makes sense. Trusting them doesn’t. (October 8, 2017; July 2, 2017)

I’ll have all eternity, I hope and trust, to bask in God’s glory. Right now, there’s work to do.

Part of it, a big part, is passing along the best news humanity’s ever had.

God loves us. All of us. Each of us. And wants to adopt us. (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:35; Peter 2:34; Catechism, 13, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

I accepted God’s offer. What you decide is up to you.

I like being part of God’s family. It’s not the ‘king’s kid’ or ‘prosperity Gospel’ goofiness that keeps resurfacing. That’s yet again another topic.

The way I see it, just saying I’m part of the family won’t cut it. I should act like I accept the family values. (James 2:1719; Catechism, 18141816)

I should love God and my neighbors. All my neighbors. Everyone in the world. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1789)

That’s what I should do. What actually happens is another matter, far too often. But it’s still a good idea.

I’m not loving each neighbor if I see a neighbor in trouble and do nothing. Or ignore someone’s need.

Sometimes the only way I can help is by praying. There’s more to say about that. Lots more. (Catechism, 25582856)

I can also suggest that recognizing humanity’s “transcendent dignity” makes sense. It’s in each of us. But we’re not all alike. We’re not supposed to be. (Catechism, 1929, 19341938)

I think generosity, kindness, sharing and planning for future generations makes sense. (Catechism, 1937, 2415, 24192442)

Saying that is simple. Applying those principles isn’t. Neither is cobbling together something that’ll work long enough be be worthwhile.

I don’t expect to be around when what we’re doing today ‘pays off.’ Humanity has an enormous backlog of injustices and unresolved issues.

I see that as a good reason to keep seeking justice and practicing mercy.

Working together, with everyone who’s willing to help, I think we can build a better world. Meanwhile, as I keep saying, we’ve got good reasons for celebration:


1 The Transfiguration, a few resources:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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7 Responses to God, Love and Clouds

  1. Manny says:

    Reverse engineering the Trinity!! LOL, that’s a great thought. I may have to use that some day in conversation. The other Transfiguration accounts are not as fresh in my mind because I tend to hold the Mark version in my head. Remember Mark wrote his Gospel listening at the feet of Peter, so these first hand accounts where Peter is a primary participant are particularly meaningful. Look at how silly Peter sounds there, where he’s wants to build three tents. I think that’s Peter remembering how overwhelmed he was and how humble he felt.

  2. Here are some thoughts – admittedly, taken from elsewhere on the Internet; not original to me.

    Mt Tabor, one of the possible sites that this event occurred, is not a small hill. It sits almost 2,000 ft high. Mt Hermon, another possible site, is over 9,000 ft high! So the disciples must have been really tired by the time they got to the top and wondering why Jesus took them up there.

    In those days, Jewish law said that you needed 2 or 3 witnesses to prove something in a court of law. During the Transfiguration, there were not only three living witnesses (James, John and Peter), but two “spiritual” ones as well in Moses and Elijah. This was an important event and God/Jesus wanted to make sure that there were reliable witnesses to recount the event after His Resurrection.

    The disciples were not intelligent people, scientists, philosophers or such like educated men. They were simple people. They must have been overwhelmed by what was happening. No wonder Peter was babbling and not knowing what to say. He offered to build three tents, (how? did he have the tent equipment with him?) not knowing what to say. It’s like what we (British) would do in a panic situation – offer to make a cup of tea. But that’s another story for another day. Never under estimate the power of Earl’s Grey – hot.

    God bless.

    • The point about required numbers of witnesses is particularly interesting for me. Moses and Elijah as representing the law and the prophets,yes – filling legal requirements, I don’t remember seeing that. Good one, and particularly important for folks at the time.

      About the disciples, particularly the 12 – – – I’m one of those (over-?)educated folks, and don’t mind my background. However – I’ll get back to that. Later. Maybe.

      I think I know the point you’re making – – – that Peter’s response is what I’d call ’50th percentile.’ Average. Typical. And agreed.

    • I like your “cup of tea” comparison.

  3. irishbrigid says:

    Missing article: “Not in usual sense.”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Thanks for taking time to comment!