06 August 2018

Jesus in the Sky with Prophets

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration
Non enim doctas fabulas secuto notam fecimus vobis Domini nostri Jesu Christi virtutem et praesentiam : sed speculatores facti illius magnitudinis... Et hanc vocem nos audivimus de caelo allatam, cum essemus cum ipso in monte sancto.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.... we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

A question comes up every year around Easter: how can we know? Where is the proof?

Truth be told we take a lot of folks at their word, over and over. We never ask for more proof than their spoken word, even when it's obvious (to anyone paying attention) that some story or other is clearly fabricated. There are whole websites devoted to disproving fabrications and there are, equally, whole websites devoted to dispensing fabrications. Yet, not to put too fine a point on it, none of these websites ask their owners (or even their readers) to pay the price of their truth with their very lives.

We live in an age when religious martyrdom has been given a bad rap. Only insane folks die for their version of religious truths. Sane religious folks are to be differentiated from the nuts that fly planes into buildings or park trucks in front of government offices. Lunatics kill themselves to make a point. Regular folks live and let live and don't bother with messy things like doctrines. That's not, actually, what martyrdom means. Killing oneself or oneself and a whole lot of others, is not what makes a martyr.

Being slain for or because of one's faith does, however.

So it would be possible to look around the globe today and find folks of several religions who are killed exactly because of their religions or, in the line of duty described by their religions. A Jew slain in their Synagogue, a Native American defending tribal sacred grounds, a Christian killed while she was praying at a shrine. These are all martyrs. The Royal Martyrs of Russia are of this sort, as are very many slain by the Communists. The right wing militias supported by the US have given us a lot of these as well, especially in Latin America. President Reagan deserves the title of "Martyr Maker".

There are also martyrs of a sort very commonly understood: people who are ordered to recant their faith and do not - and so are slain. Communists, Fascists and other forms of paganism have given many faiths - including Christianity - a lot of these. Likewise the English have given the church a lot of these. Queen Elizabeth I deserves the title of "Martyr Maker" as well.

St Peter - and the other witnesses to the life of Jesus - are, in fact, martyrs of a different sort. Their witness, their confession lies at the root of all the others. These 11 men (and 400 or so others) insisted that what they had seen had actually happened. And not one of them recanted even though every last one save John, could have purchased their very lives by that recantation. 

We have seen this. St John adds, "We have handled this with our hands".

Yet today it is popular to deny the authority of the witnesses.
To say the tales are fabricated.
To insist that the stories must have been written down long after the reported events.
To demand any number of options that make it easy for the stories to be untrue.

It's not enough to say St Paul didn't write his letters, we have to image St Titus was a lie as well, or St Timothy. The whole thing is made up.

Well, OK. 

The theory that Jesus' body was taken down from the cross and fed to garbage dogs (forgive me) and that's why there is no body is a self-contained and non-contradictory way to read the possibilities. But then what about the Resurrection? Well, those were stories the failed followers of the guy told themselves in their guilt at deserting him.

OK.

Except who goes to their death for a lie - knowing it's a lie? And while yes, you may be able to get one or two folks to do that, who gets 12? Who gets 400?

You can't prove that this thing, this Christ event did not happen. But you can believe it to be a lie, yes.  Are you wiling, personally, to go to your death to say you know it didn't happen? Can you get 400 folks to join you (who are not equally inspired by their own religious faith)?

A man who believes in nothing will fall for anything. But he won't die for it.

The Apostolic martyrs paid with their lives the cost of their beliefs. And in so paying, they brought hundreds, thousands in to experience the change of life that only Jesus can give. The first experience of the light of Mt Tabor that comes with baptism and is renewed - every day - at Mass and confession.

Today's feast gives us a goal for all this. This image of Jesus, the Son of God, glorified in his flesh, this is what God has in store for all of us. It's not enough for God to become a human baby, urinating on himself, or defecating on the ground and wiping his bottom with his hand. Nope, that's not enough of a scandal. God has opened the gates of intimate union with his divinity to all of us. This glorified God-Man we see before the Apostles today is a sign of our own theosis, our divinization. As we are he has become so that as he now is, we can become by his grace in the future.  

This participation in God - as God participates in our humanity - is a thing unimagined and yet making so much sense: that we would be able to return, in Christ, to a place not only before the fall, but to our intended place in spite of the fall. This makes the whole of history into a unified story arc with Christ as the creator, corrector, and culmination.

The Transfiguration is not only a sign of Christ's coming triumph in the Gospel texts, it is a sign of our coming triumph in the world to come.

Each martyr from St Stephen down to those slain on a beach by ISIS have paid with their lives not for their taste of this life, but to prove that they had done so. Their death pays for others to taste it, for us to taste it as well.

A blessed feast!
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