Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36
We hear a lot about the high cost of living. Today I’d like to turn the phrase a bit and share some thoughts with you about the high cost of transformation. Becoming someone greater than we are now does not come freely or easily… it comes at a great price, a price that takes us out of our comfort zones. We all know that nothing in this life, except perhaps love, comes to us free. And we all know that the really valuable things in life cost us in terms of our own personal efforts. So, too, the cost of transformation demands its price for us to pay.
You and I live in a time in which excellence and perfection are much sought after when it comes to material things, but are ignored when it comes to spiritual things. It is a great American goal to have a perfect body. To be physically attractive is something that’s constantly put in front of us in all of the media images we receive. But how many of those physically gorgeous people do you see every day? Hardly a one!
The pursuit of perfection is likewise true with regard to our intellectual faculties. Getting an excellent and perfect education is quite laudable. There’s nothing wrong with that pursuit. In many fields it isn’t something that’s simply “nice” – it is necessary. But it costs, costs not only in terms of money but more so in disciplined time and effort.
And what of moral perfection… moral excellence? Where do we find any premiums put on that? If we are to transform our world and make it a safer place in which to live, we must examine that question. If our humanity is to be transfigured, and Christ’s transfiguration is an icon of that goal, then what do we need to do? We find a great deal of conflict in this area. Can morals be taught in our schools when religion is a taboo subject? And when it comes to putting images of what is to be valued in front of our children, what sorts of values are presented to them? What are the images that are put before them?
When it comes to celebrating Mass, is the best priest the one who preaches the shortest homilies and celebrates Holy Mass in the shortest period of time? There’s a lot of sentiment in many folks that speaks of wanting a religion that makes no demands, doesn’t cost much, and gets worship over with as soon as possible. Do we really want bargain basement, quick fix faith, or do we want our religious faith to be worth our efforts and really cost something?
We are, in addition, surrounded by lots of people who have a moral standard that seem to be hardly a standard at all. They reduce the teachings of Jesus Christ to a so-called morality that tells us “Anything is okay so long as it doesn’t hurt someone else.” In other words, morality is built on the pleasure-pain principle. So long as it feels good and doesn’t hurt anybody, it’s okay. Where in the Bible does Jesus give us that standard?
It’s interesting to consider the main characters in today’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration. Moses’ life was engaged in a tremendous struggle to free his people from a pleasure principle. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them freedom, but they didn’t want to carry the weight of freedom with all of those burdensome moral choices that had to be made. So they rebelled and asked to return to the flesh-pots of Egypt. Oh, sure, they would have to live in slavery… but at least they would be comfortable. The sort of freedom and life God wanted to give them was simply too costly, they felt.
Elijah struggled against a corrupt Jewish king who was a dissolute married to a woman named Jezebel, someone who promoted sexual promiscuity not only as a way of life but as a part of pagan temple worship services where they had temple prostitutes! We even find St. Peter in today’s account wanting to put up tents, hunker down, and not go to Jerusalem. Why? Because it would cost too much?
Self-sacrifice and discipline are the price one pays for creativity, for personal growth, and for transformation. The greatest of our artists, poets, musicians and moral leaders give testimony to that fact. We know that excellence in bodily beauty comes only at the cost of sacrificing certain foods along with painful exercising. We buy exercise machines so that we might inflict self-sacrificing pain on ourselves in order to have perfect bodies.
We increase our intellectual capacities only through self-sacrificing times of study as well as through painful exams. Should we expect otherwise when it comes to moral and spiritual growth? And yet we treat morality as if it comes naturally. And if acting morally causes us great discomfort, embarrassment or even pain? Well, we quickly opt for a quick fix solution that doesn’t cost us anything at all when it comes to time and commitment of our energies.
The message of the Transfiguration is empty and meaningless if it is not in the context that Jesus was about to suffer and die in order to release God’s transforming power into our humanity. The whole of Christ’s life is meaningless unless it points to the meaning of suffering. Of all of the great founders of religions, Jesus Christ is the only one who enters into suffering, loss, pain and even death itself in order to lead us with Him through it into the resurrection and a higher and better life. Transcendence comes only through death and resurrection. That’s the guts of Christianity, a religion that goes way beyond simply being “nice”.
Lent moves ahead now toward Easter. Have courage. Make the hard decisions. Move away from merely being comfortable and get into the cost of discipleship. There will, of course, be many Herods and Pilates to judge you and mock you. But if you are in Christ, then you must live His life and enter into the cost of movement, growth, transformation and transcendence. In the entire history of mankind, there has not been presented to us any other way to climb, and painfully climb, the mountain of nobility, beauty and Godlikeness.
It all depends upon what you really want… and the price you’re willing to pay for to have it.