Once upon a time, Mrs. Jamieson walks into the optical office to return a pair of glasses that she purchases for her husband a week before. The assistant asks, “What seems to be the problem, Mrs. Jamieson?” The woman replies, “I’m returning these glasses I bought for my husband. He’s still not seeing things my way.”
This Lent, how about if we see things God’s way? How about if we hang onto the vision?
Where would Abraham and Sarah be without the vision? “Leave your ancestral land and go to a land that I WILL SHOW YOU,” says the Lord. Not only does God show them the way but also God appears to them and tells them they will have a son. Then God assures them that they do not have to sacrifice their first born to form a treaty with the Almighty. Then God tells Abraham and Sarah that they will be the father and mother of many nations.
Where would Peter, James and John be without the vision?
Six days before the Transfiguration, Jesus asks his disciples how people are talking about him. The disciples name all sorts of people that many think Jesus resembles. It is Peter who names Jesus as the Anointed One- the one who will save Israel. But Jesus is not the type of Messiah Peter thinks he knows. This Messiah will save the world on the cross, and, of course, this shocks Peter. It shocks the other eleven as well. Jesus calls Peter “Satan” for his parochial thinking. I wonder how many others think the same as Peter? So, they need a vision and a vision they get as they climb Mt. Tabor. There, God transfigures his Son with the two mighty prophets of the Old Testament to testify to the Messianic Mission.
What is vision, we might ask? When we close our eyes and see the possibilities that God has for us- that is vision. Then when we open our eyes and witness those ideas happening right around us- that is mission. Abram and Sarai need that vision of a new land with a son and many descendants. Peter, James and John need that vision of the Transfiguration to help them comprehend the travel to Jerusalem where Jesus will be crucified.
Allow me a modern illustration~ Sister Elizabeth Johnson is a preeminent theologian in the United States at Fordham University. Because of her scholarship in women’s studies and feminist theology, often the U.S. Bishops and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith question her writings. Many times people ask her why she remains teaching at a Catholic school, or, why she remains a Catholic theologian. To answer, she likes to tell the story about a picture that she has on her desk at Fordham. Before 1987, before U.S. cardinals interrogate her for tenure at Catholic University of America, Sister Elizabeth Johnson finds herself teaching in South Africa. She says, “Apartheid was still the law of the land, Nelson Mandela sat in prison, and army tanks were positioned on every street corner. Walking by a pastel-colored building in Cape Town, Johnson noticed that it had been defaced with very thick, black paint. “Hang Mandela,” the wall read.” If we look closer at the photo, we see that “[s]omeone had used a pencil to add a small, but mighty preposition, transforming the graffiti to read “Hang On Mandela.” “Someone took and turned that message in the darkest of days,” Johnson says, tearing up at the memory. She saw this sign just before returning to the United States to be interrogated by the cardinals. “’That picture has become my answer to why I stay in the church.’”
You and I need a vision so that we can hang on! According to Peter Senge of MIT, a vision simply put “is the answer to the question, ‘What do we want to create?’” As Christ’s disciples our answer is “We want to create the kingdom of God in goodness and love.” That is the vision of Peter, James and John. However, we can never forget something. We find the vision on the mountain, but we must build the mission in the valley. Here in the valley we bear the hardship of the Gospel, and, we-hang-on like Sister Elizabeth Johnson, like Abraham and Sarah, and like Peter, James and John and countless others. We hang on because God gives us a vision and we are responsible for the mission, no matter what the cost.
At every Eucharist, God calls us to envision a world of goodness and love. This Lent, may God grant us the gift of vision so that we can see things God’s way.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
Second Sunday of Lent