The Word Embodied
The High and Holy Realm
“A lamp shining in a dark place”
“I’ve been to the mountaintop,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said shortly before his murder. From there, on the privileged heights, he saw the promised land of great transformations—another way, another hope, another kingdom. It was not the shadowy world of night’s clashing armies, but of the bright dawn of justice and peace.
The mountain is the place of visions. There we find a lookout over distant realms. The mountain manifests beatitudes, eternal covenants, solitary confrontation with the most holy and high.
It was on the mountain that Jesus became transfigured before his apostles’ eyes, his human and familiar face now dazzling as the sun, the ordinary clothes shimmering in light. He was in conversation with the great ones, Moses and Elijah; and out of clouds came the voice: “This is my beloved son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.”
Listen to him. Christ is a message sent to us from afar, the Second Letter of Peter says, prophetic and reliable, a unique word from another world, not something fabricated by human imagination or earthly construct. As the prophet Daniel dreamed, the mountain of transfiguration became the throne of the promised one, who, before the voice of heaven, would receive “dominion, glory and kingship. Nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed.”
On the mountain, our attention searches out the promise that shines over dark places, the first streak of dawn, the rising morning star in our hearts. The mountain is our Sinai, bearing our new Moses, our new law, which has the human name of Jesus. It is our own Horeb, upon which walks the final prophet, so much greater than Elijah.
Let us make no mistake about it. In these days, when voices advise us to entertain other, more pliable gods and goddesses, we must decide to whom we will listen. Who will win our attention and allegiance?
Will we be held in thrall by smoldering spirits of the earth and its murmurs? Will we acquiesce to the lords of culture and those who manicure our surface image? Will we obey the blind and uncaring laws of planetary mechanics? Will we believe the pimps of ego who assure us we need listen to nothing other than our impulse? Will we cling to cleverly concocted myth?
The readings for the eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are warnings about the illusions that beset us, the sounds of the sirens that lure us. The anxiety and toil of Ecclesiastes, the idolatry and obsessions mentioned in Colossians, the voracious greed portrayed in the gospel parable all clamor for our attention.
But the transfiguration scene reminds us that, as followers of Christ, a different voice sounds in our hearts. It is the voice of the High and Holy One, spoken from afar, but given human resonance. “This, this one is my beloved.”
Ours is a plain and crucial choice. On the mountain of transfiguration is the holy ground of recommitment.
Who will be our God? Before what powers will we fall on our knees? If we go to the mountain of the beloved and listen to him, he will call forth our slumbering powers. “Get up. Do not be afraid.” And when we rise to our feet, looking up and out, ready to descend the heights, may our eyes fall upon no one else but only Jesus.
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University