Several years ago, well several decades ago, there was a TV show I remember. It was on Twilight Zone or Outer Limits or something in that genre. The set up was that the devil gave the main character a pair of glasses that let him see people as they really were. This one was a thief, that one was a hypocrite. The character was quite pleased with his devil’s spectacles until he looked in a mirror. There he saw himself as he really was – incredibly ugly, marred, disease-ridden, foul, beastly. The devil could then claim him as his own. What would you see if you had the devil’s spectacles? Places of worship attacked, children being abused, people who are starving. We need to trade in the devil’s spectacles for God’s glasses. Underneath we are all children of God. Finding that out is the most necessary task on the road to becoming an adult. Instead of being who my parents want me to be or who my friends think that I am, or how society has tried to pigeon-home me, being myself, who God made me to be, constitutes genuine maturity. What hurt us are those times when we hear voices that prevent us from recognizing our true selves. People tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t measure up, that we don’t have what it takes, that your momma dresses you funny. When we take those messages to heart it prevents us from recognizing who we truly are. What helps us on the road to genuine self-knowledge is the healing voice of affirmation. When people recognize the potential that we have, when we are given the blessed assurance of our eternal dignity, when we trust that others will companion us on the journey, then we are free to find who we truly are called to be.
Jesus received that affirmation at his baptism when the heavenly voice said to him, “You are my beloved Son. I am well pleased with you.” Because he knew who he was he was able to launch out into his mission. There is principle in medieval philosophy that says, in Latin, “agere sequitur esse,” what we do flows from who we are. What Jesus did — his preaching, his healings, his gathering of disciples, his welcoming of sinners, his feeding the multitudes – flowed from who he was, the beloved Son of God. On the mount of transfiguration the heavenly voice gave a similar message, addressed this time not to Jesus but to his disciples: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Peter, John and James were instructed to recognize who Jesus was and then to act accordingly. The rest of the Gospel reminds us that even these special friends of Jesus had a hard time doing so.
The problem they had was that they were unsure of who they were. No heavenly voice was telling them they were beloved children of God. They kept trying to become something they were not. They wanted to build three tents up on the mountain to stay in the consoling feeling of being in the presence of the holy. They were reluctant to go down the mountain for then they would have to face their own doubts and fears once again. They didn’t like hearing Jesus talk about the cross, about the coming of his suffering and death. Instead of feeling comfortable in their own skin they imagined that they needed something else in order to feel alive. Of course, we know how that all ended – with betrayal, denial, abandonment. If you don’t know who you are, then you don’t do the things you should do.
All of which refers not just to Peter, John and James but also to us. If we are to heed the heavenly voice and do what Jesus tells us we must be secure in our identity as beloved children of our heavenly Father. I’m reminded of the story of the teacher who was so frustrated with her class one day that she challenged them: “Why are you acting so foolish? Are you fools? If anyone thinks they are a fool, please stand. Come on, stand up.” There was a long pause until eventually young Harold stood up. The teacher wheeled on him. “So, Harold, you stood up. Do you think you are a fool.” “No ma’am,” he replied. “I just felt bad that you were the only one who was standing up.” This scene from St. Luke’s gospel is usually called the “transfiguration.” In reality it should be called the “revelation” or the “eye-opener.” Jesus was always as glorious as he appeared on that mountaintop. Jesus was always connected to the Law and the Prophets. Jesus was always the chosen Son. The disciples simply recognized what lay underneath the whole time. That same reality is true of us, but in a much simpler and much less dramatic way. We are always made in God’s image and likeness. We are always part of God’s saving story. We are always beloved children of God. All of the sin, all of the hate, all of the ugliness, all of the violence that is out there obscures who we really are. We need to look at ourselves with God’s glasses and not the devil’s spectacles.
Once we do that, once we see ourselves as God sees us, we’ll be able to listen to what Jesus tells us to do. We pray because, like any child, we want to stay close and connected with a mother who loves us. Prayer is curling up in a mother’s lap. We fast because we know ourselves to be filled by God’s blessed bounty which is lavished upon us simply because of who we are. We give alms because we know that we are connected with all of the God’s children and because of that connection we want to reach out to those who are hurting in any way. Listen to Jesus, the heavenly voice said. But we only hear Jesus when we trust that God has made us beloved. Then and only then can we listen even to his difficult challenge to pick up our cross each day.