A Hard Master

On the Feast of the Transfiguration we contemplate the event on Mt. Tabor when Peter, James and John witnessed the glorified appearance of the Lord Jesus. In the words of St. Matthew:

Six days afterwards Jesus took Peter and James and his brother John with him, and led them up on to a high mountain where they were alone. And he was transfigured in their presence, his face shining like the sun, and his garments becoming white as snow; and all at once they had sight of Moses and Elias conversing with him. Then Peter said aloud to Jesus, Lord, it is well that we should be here; if it pleases thee, let us make three arbours in this place, one for thee, one for Moses and one for Elias. Even before he had finished speaking, a shining cloud overshadowed them. And now, there was a voice which said to them out of the cloud, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; to him, then, listen. The disciples, when they heard it, fell on their faces, overcome with fear; but Jesus came near and roused them with his touch; Arise, he said, do not be afraid. And they lifted up their eyes, and saw no man there but Jesus only.

When Peter, James and John experienced Jesus’ transfiguration, they encountered, not an alternate science fiction universe, but a reality beyond that which they could see with human eyes. They beheld Jesus as the angels behold Him, as the Ultimate Reality. In 2002 John Paul II suggested that a new set of mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, be added to the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. The new Mysteries have been embraced by Catholics, and one of them, the fourth, is the contemplation of the Mystery of Jesus’ Transfiguration. This means that everyone who prays the Rosary now contemplates the Transfiguration of Jesus on a weekly basis. When I pray the Mystery of the Transfiguration, I ask for this gift: that I might be granted a glimpse of reality – to see thing the way they really are, specifically that I might see God as He is, that I might see myself as He sees me, and that I might see others as He sees them.

After all, how tough can that be?

Well, let’s start with seeing God the way He really is. The very first sin, the sin of Adam and Eve, was eating the apple, right? Not exactly. The sin was disobedience, and that sin took root when our First Parents became confused about Who God really is. Satan hissed to Eve that God was a cosmic party-pooper, a tyrant who was trying to keep her from experiencing life to the fullest because that possibility threatened His monopoly on all the fun. She bought it. This lie of the Evil One worked in the Garden, and it’s been working for him ever since. Satan has pretty much sold the world on a version of God called “The Hard Master.” You know, the Guy from the parables Jesus told:

“For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

Also known as “the Lousy Landowner”:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.‘ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? ‘Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ So the last shall be first, and the first last.

As well as “the Mean Old Man”:

Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’

Jesus came to bring us exceedingly great good news: The First Person of the Trinity is not a celestial slave-driver, nor a capitalist pig, nor a cosmic grump. He’s your Papa! When Jesus taught His followers to pray, He instructed us to address God as our Father, and to ask that His Kingdom might come. Why? Because nothing could be better than that. He told us to ask our Daddy to give us our daily bread, because “what father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus’ disciples were commanded to ask for forgiveness, with the understanding that we were passing that forgiveness on as children of our Loving Father, Who isn’t asking us to do anything that He hasn’t already done for us, on a completely unfathomable scale. We Christians must then ask our Papa to deliver us from evil, from the evil one who’s busy trying to lure us away from Him.

St. Paul took up the refrain: “…because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!” And Blessed JP2 expounded upon that:

In us, human beings, the divine sonship comes from Christ and is brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to teach us that we are children and at the same time to make this divine sonship effective in us. The Son is He who with all His being says to God: “Abba! Father!”. Here we are touching on the culminating point of the mystery of our Christian life. In fact, the name “Christian” indicates a new way of being, to be in the likeness of the Son of God. As sons in the Son, we share in salvation, which is not only the deliverance from evil, but is first of all the fullness of good: of the supreme good of the sonship of God.

The Father loves us beyond all telling, so impossibly much that He had to communicate this not in words, but in His Living Word made flesh, His Son, Who came to convince us that we too could become sons of the Most High. That contradicted the popular narrative – wasn’t God a slave-driver? True, the Old Testament prophets had on occasion referred to God as a Father, but they had also referred to Him as a fowl (Deut 32:11, Ruth 2:12, Ps 91:4)– you couldn’t take that rhetoric too seriously! Fallen man crucified the Beloved Son for having the temerity to teach this divine sonship, particularly His own unique Sonship. Hear the scorn in the voices of those demanding that Jesus be put to death. Pilate inquires as to what crime Jesus has committed, and they answer, “He has made Himself the Son of God!” (Jn 19:7) Likewise as He hangs upon the Cross, this charge is thrown in His face, “Let God rescue him now, if He delights in him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God‘” (Mt 27:43).

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – they told each other. Crucify Him.

Mary believed. Had the Archangel Gabriel proposed the Incarnation to me, I would surely have blurted out the Aramaic equivalent of “Hold on just a gall-durn minute there – how is all of this going to play out??? Is there a downside to this??? Can I get this in writing?? Can’t I just have my attorneys get in touch with your attorneys??” God, however, in His infinite omniscience bypassed me entirely and went to Mary. When presented with the Almighty’s jaw-dropping proposal, she explained that she, as a woman committed to remaining a virgin even after marriage, couldn’t see how she was going to bear a child, but the thought of turning God down never occurred to her. Mary adhered to the traditional understanding of God as her Creator and Lord; she was, she declared, His handmaiden. Yet she had internalized Isaiah’s cry to the Lord: “You, O LORD, are our Father!” A maidservant may obey her master even while second-guessing him. But before she became the chaste spouse of the Holy Spirit, before she became the Mother of God, Mary was the child of the Father. Mary loved and trusted God as her Father, and what He proposed she accepted as a matter of course, the same way you responded to your dad when he said, “Get in the car; we’ve driving over to Krispy Kreme.” Mary simply TRUSTED her Dad. He would never ask her to do anything that would not be a blessing; she was convinced of that. That conviction got her through the three days when Jesus went missing as an adolescent – the Father of Lights would never leave her lost in darkness. That conviction supported her through the three days before the Resurrection – the Father of Mercies had His plan, and His plan was GOOD; it could not be otherwise.

Something that we often forget is that faith, in and of itself, is useless. The object of your faith is what mattersin whom have you believed? Mary believed in her Dad. He didn’t fail her. He is incapable of failing us.

Which can seem like kind of a far stretch of faith when your husband divorces you, your son is on drugs, your doctor says the tests don’t look good, and your employer is proposing layoffs, when good men die young and the folks who betrayed them live to party another day, when tornadoes and floods wipe out the innocent while the survivors scheme to profit from the disaster. It undoubtedly seemed like a far stretch of faith to believe that anything good could come of the murder of the Lamb of God, His Beloved Son. Yet God surprised us. He didn’t, however, surprise Mary. She knew – you can trust your Dad.

This is the first Reality we need to learn to embrace – the reality of our Heavenly Father.

 

On the Feast of the Transfiguration

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Devastation after tsunami in Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan, by Mitsukuni Sato/Wikimedia

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