When seventeen-year-old Hannah said she was drug free, her parents were skeptical. Having participated in a rehab program and given all the support she could expect from friends and family, Hannah was able to declare that she was finding success in weaning herself off a destructive opioid dependence.
But her father was not convinced. When pressed, he simply confessed, “I don’t believe people can change. Once a drug addict, always a drug addict.”
Though fictional, Hannah and her parents’ situation poses a common predicament for many today. Not just of the real struggle with addiction. But also the struggle with belief: Do we change? And if so, how? And maybe more to the point: Do we recognize the change that happens in our lives? Do we want to?
There’s the story of the Zen Monk who was visiting Time’s Square in New York. And he wanted to buy a hotdog. The vendor asked him, “What would you like on your hotdog?”
The monk replied with a smile, “Make me one with everything.” So the vendor made the hotdog with ketchup, onions and lettuce and mustard and all these other nice things. And he gave it to the monk, and the monk gave the vendor a twenty-dollar bill.
And the vendor didn’t give him anything back. So the monk said, “What about my change?” And the vendor said, “The change is all within.”
An underlying belief in Christianity is that people do change. The resurrection of Christ presents the ultimate pattern for life. We die. We live. We grow. We evolve. We are given new beginnings, to live again. Death. Resurrection. Life is dynamic, not static.
On this Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday, we encounter people who change. First and foremost, Jesus. He is bathed in uncreated light and to the onlookers his face radiates a changed appearance. His countenance is transformed before their very eyes. Here the gospel writers want to emphasize Jesus’ divine nature, his unique revelation as God’s own. The witnesses to this holy and amazing encounter receive the most wonderful gift of experiencing God’s greatness in Christ.
At the same time, the transfigured Lord encounters us. In the scriptures for this Sunday we witness change in the characters of the bible, specifically Moses, Elijah and Paul.They, and others in the bible, are not static beings, one-dimensional characters. We witness in them, rather, incredible change over the course of their lives and throughout history.
In other words, Jesus is not the only one who shows a divine-like appearance. Throughout scripture, there are others who experience within themselves a transfiguration.
Jesus is the first and foremost. But God’s divinity, though fully expressed in Jesus, is not confined to Jesus. God’s true presence is not limited to Jesus for Jesus’ sake alone. God’s fullness in all of creation is not locked in one specific time of history, two thousand years ago.
Martin Luther called it, the great, wonderful, holy “exchange”. On the cross God experienced the fullness of our human sin in all its humiliating nakedness and vulnerability in order that all for whom Christ loved and died may eventually experience and grow into the fullness of divine life and union with God. This divine-human holy exchange is exemplified and mediated through Jesus.
We may balk at the notion that in our very lives, in each one of us, God is present in the living consciousness of Jesus. How can we be that good, eh? We are so used to imagining a separation there—that God is ‘out there’ reserved exclusively to doctrinal debate alone or in some other person upon whom we project all our hopes and dreams. But within me? In my heart? So that I can live differently, better, a changed person?
St. Paul, elsewhere in his first century writings expresses this truth from the start: In his letter to the Galatians, he says, “God revealed his Son in me”. On the road to Damascus the living, post-resurrected Christ encountered Paul. Over one hundred times in all of his New Testament writings he writes this phrase: en Christo meaning ‘in Christ’. And to the Colossians, he confesses: “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything.”
The vendor’s response to the monk carries metaphoric weight. The change is within. A holy encounter with Jesus first changes us within. The change for the better can happen because God is in us. God works on our hearts. God is relentless. Sometimes it hurts. God is the refiner’s fire, creating and re-creating us from the inside-out.
So that, eventually, the light of Christ’s love may shine forth from our lives, and our union with God will be complete, in this world and the next.
Thanks be to God!
Laurence Freeman, “Change is part of the Journey, like it or not”; talk 1 in Mount Oliveto Retreat, Maggiore Siena, Italy, June 18-25, 2016: Change (wccm.org, audio resources, album)
Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2
“That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it.
And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them… in the same manner as He grieved and suffered in our sins, and was confounded, in the same manner we rejoice and glory in His righteousness.”
–Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608.
Chapter one, verse sixteen, as translated by the NIV and JB.
Chapter three, verse 11. In the NRSV, the Greek is translated, “He is all and in all.”