Last week, the gospel of the Transfiguration struck me in a particular way. We attended Mass in the chapel of the Sisters of Mother Teresa, with a few young people from Christian Life Community.
The celebrant, Fr Tony Calleja, a Jesuit who has been serving the poorest in many countries through the Jesuit Refugee Service, shared his reflections with us. Among others he pointed out the fact that Elijah and Moses were the two leaders who were called to keep the faith in a small remnant of the people of God.
He also pointed out that this vision and encounter with the Transfigured Christ was written in order to make sense of the events that were to come later: the crucifixion of Jesus and the apparent complete failure of Jesus’ mission. After all, Jesus was born and died as an outcast outside the city walls.
His words were poignant in that little chapel, after a day of facing the fractures in our own society. But they were also poignant to my own experience. Remnants, outcasts, failure, suffering were the words that lingered on.
Many Christians who journey with me are living an experience we might not have lived before: a feeling of being lost, isolated and alien in our own country. We seem to be speaking a language and holding on to a set of values which seem hard to translate for others around us. And the road forward is not clear either.
So, St Mark’s whole gospel, which we read this liturgical year, seems to speak directly to us. The Jesus found in Mark is not ‘the majestic messiah’, but ‘the suffering servant’, who lives his mission to the end on the cross. Mark’s messiah is both the Son of Man and the Son of God, combining a divine nature with the suffering servant figure. Indeed, some studies consider Mark as a passion narrative with an extended introduction.
We need goodness to combat the ‘anything goes’ mentality. We need truth to start sowing seeds of reconciliation
Mark was writing to deepen the faith of his community, emphasising the salvific significance of the cross and resurrection, to prepare them to face their own persecution. The response to Jesus is faithful discipleship, being with Jesus, sharing his mission, namely his passion and his glory.
Jesus is presented as the Lord who cares, but also the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, and this is the model to be imitated by his disciple (Mk 1:17).
Jesus stands in sharp contrast to the apostles’ failures. They are the ones who betray, deny and misunderstand him. He is the never-failing presence to the ever-failing disciples. The ending to his gospel presents us with the empty tomb as a symbol of the beginning of a new creation where everything is still to be done.
So, this gospel is a gospel that resonates particularly with our ‘desperate’ times. Living this situation in authenticity we too face persecution and mockery, in very subtle but insidious ways.
Our bishops, in their Lenten message, encouraged us to keep focused on the Transfiguration by holding on to the values of beauty, goodness and truth. Indeed, we need beauty to combat the utilitarian rampage on our built and unbuilt environment.
We need goodness to combat the ‘anything goes’ mentality. We need truth to start sowing seeds of reconciliation. Above all, we need to contemplate the suffering and transfigured Christ who also, through his love, will “transfigure our world of mud into gold.” (David Maria Turoldo)
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