There was a wealthy man who had lost his wife, when his only child was very young. He employed a housekeeper to work and to take care of the Child. The boy met with a tragic death at the age of twenty. The old man did not have any kith and kin. And he suffered severe cardiac arrest and died a few years later. He had no heir to his properties. There was no will either. So, the state seized his entire property and announced an auction for the disposal of the properties. The old house keeper had also turned up for the auction not because he wanted to buy something but her grief was too strong to keep her away. And there was only one in the whole collections that could attract her attention. It was a photograph of the son whom she was looking after. She had loved him as her own son. No one wanted to buy the photograph and with the little money she had, she managed to buy it for her, as she loved him so very deeply. She brought it home and went on to open it and take it out from the frame. When she opened the back side of the frame, some papers fell down. They looked important and so she brought them to a lawyer who told her: The old gentle man has left all of his properties and money to the one who loved his son so much as to buy his photograph.
Yes friends, genuine love is rewarding! The implications of the anecdote are many! Her love for the boy whom she was taking care of as her own son was so genuine and deep that she did not care about losing the little money she had for survival to buy the photograph. She did not think that she is losing something to buy it. She never thought that she would be rewarded so for her act. Now, she is rewarded! Yes, the apparent loser is ultimately the winner. That is also the divine game. In most of the games that we witness in our everyday life, so much effort is put in in order to defeat others and gain something. Have you ever imagined that the loser will be the winner? And yet, this is true in the case of Jesus. Jesus reveals a God who loses his only Son for the love of many. God becoming a human being may appear to be a failure for God in the eyes of the world. In fact, God did not ultimately lose anything. On the contrary, he won many souls. This was made possible only through the Cross. The apparent loser turns out to be the ultimate winner. Paul means much the same, when he says: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8: 9).
Therefore, the Cross is a sign of triumph and it stands for victory. But, when we think of cross, what comes to our mind at once is that it is a sign of shame and humiliation. That the cross is a sign of God’s final victory will not be immediately intelligible to our human minds. It will be hidden from us precisely because we need to exercise our faith; our faith should become operative. God’s design is not revealed to us so transparently. But, the end is clearly God’s. God is clearly in control of things. Nothing will go out of God’s control. We need to firmly believe in this. Revelation of such a divine plan will be possible for people who live by God’s will, since they are in tune with higher power and are working from a higher level of God’s own wisdom. This is what actually happens for our Lord Jesus during his transfiguration reported in all the three gospels.
A story in 2 Kings can help us understand what is happening in the Transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram. Elisha, the man of God, is using his prophetic powers to reveal the strategic plans of the Aramean army to the Israelites. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy, but when he learns the truth he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha’s servant is the first to discover that they are surrounded and fears for his master’s safety. He runs to Elisha and says, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” The prophet answers “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But who would believe that when the surrounding mountainside is covered with advancing enemy troops? So Elisha prays, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opens the servant’s eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha’s disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe, but the invading army was totally humiliated.
During his transfiguration, Jesus consults his Father and comes to understand His plan for him. During transfiguration, Jesus also prepares his disciples who should be ready to part with their worldly ambitions about a conquering political Messiah and strengthens their faith and courage so that they persevere to the end.
Transfiguration was to serve as assurance of the future glory. It was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts and minds of his disciples. Our Lord was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of the early church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as a gift. The members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed out in Christ their head.
Our Lord himself has spoken of this when he foretold the splendour of his coming: The just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. This is what Paul also would mean, when he says: the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared with the future glory that is to be revealed in us. This is an invitation to fix our eyes in the life to come; in the world to come. We should not be lost in this world. We should never be deceived that what we witness by our physical eyes now is everything and there is nothing more than this. If then, we really become fools. For, what is to come in the age to come is what will be lasting and eternal. To see that, we need eyes of faith. To understand Jesus apart from his cross is to misunderstand him completely. If the aspect of suffering of Christ and the Christians are pushed to the background, the Christianity is lost. It is precisely because of this that in every Church cross hangs at the centre.
Abraham was already an old man when God told him, “Leave your country, your family and father’s house and go to the land that I show you”. It could not have been easy for Abraham to do that at his old age. But that was only first of many trails he would have to face. When at last he reached the promised land, God told him: “No, not to you, but to your descendents I will give this land”. What a disappointment!! But even bigger disappointment was awaiting him. Isaac was a growing boy; he was the apple of Abraham’s eyes. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Abraham’s heart must have been torn apart. But, even here Abraham did not fail. And today all Christians call him, ‘their father in faith’.
It is a cross to be faithful to our duties of our vocation to the priesthood. Jeremiah went through torments to be faithful to his call to preach the word of God to the people. He found the cross of preaching so heavy that he once shouted at God saying: “O God, you have seduced me; you have made me a daily laughing stock, the butt of every joke” (Jer 20:7).
We find St. Paul himself lamenting about his inner conflict or facing a paradox within him. “I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate….” ( Rom 7:15). We too may find ourselves having unnecessary confrontation within ourselves. “… a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me” ( 2Cor 12:7). He says it was continually afflicting him. Paul’s thorn in the flesh indicates that we are prone to succumb to attacks of sin which dwells within us.
A vocation to follow Christ is a vocation to suffer. Jesus himself had said that such would be the sense of Paul’s vocation. At the time of Paul’s conversion, Jesus had told Ananias: “He is a chosen instrument to carry my name before the nations…” Acts 9:15: that was the first part of the mission of the Servant of the Lord, but to carry out that mission Paul would have to fulfill the other part of the prophecy also: “…. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul’s life showed the truth of this prophecy. His mission to the Gentiles was marked by continuous trials, 5 times scourged, 3 times beaten with rods, once stoned, 3 times shipwrecked, dangerous journeys, attacks from his own people and from outsiders sleepless nights, etc.
Each follower of Christ can apply to himself what Jesus said of Paul to Ananias. “He is a chosen instrument to carry the Name to the Nations”. Commentators say that the word used in the Greek original text for “carrying” the name is a very strong word. It does not mean simply taking or announcing but actually “carrying” as one carries a heavy load. It is the very word which Luke and John use in the Gospels about the “carrying” of the cross. Being a follower of Christ is a very costly affair. It was a cross for Jesus and for the apostles and we cannot expect it to be light on our shoulders.
Fr. A Lawrence
Professor of St. Peter’s Seminary, Bangalore.