On the radio, travelling home from work one time, I was listening to the local Christian Radio station. There was one of those preacher sessions. He’s a relatively local guy from over the other side of the Melbourne, with a North American accent, I can’t remember his name. He was preaching to encourage his congregation to accept that they would fail, fall short, of what they believed God wanted of them. He connected this with Peter’s thrice denial, and failure, of Jesus. He went on to say that Jesus knew that Peter would fail because Jesus was God and therefore he knew Peter’s weaknesses.
‘Der!’ I thought to myself. I don’t need to be God to know that people are going to fall short of God and of my own expectations because I am human and I have experience of other humans. It is my humanity that knows that others will fail and let me and others down.
There are those who clearly find this difficult to accept. Even amongst clergy, struggling to live amongst their congregation, the human institution of the church, and those in authority over them, and some congregational members leaving because someone has not lived up to their expectations or has hurt them.
In the language of the scholars we speak about theology as the study of God: Theo logos, literally words about God. The study of Jesus is called Christology: Christ logos, literally words about Christ.
There are two approaches to doing Christology: high and low. The high and low have no relationship with high and low churchmanship, whatever that might mean. High Christology begins with Jesus as the incarnation of God. He is God who took on human flesh. It begins with the idea that he is God. Low Christology, however, begins with Jesus humanity. Jesus is a fully human being who reveals that he is God incarnate.
This is where this Mornington Peninsula preacher and I diverge. He is clearly a High Christologian and I am a Low Christologian. I begin with the fully human Jesus who reveals the God incarnate in him. I do not need Jesus to be God to know that Peter would let him down. Jesus full human experience would have told him that. What makes him different to most humans is his acceptance that other humans will fail him and his ability to forgive those around him who fail him. He is realistic about our sinfulness. He does not walk away in pain and disappointment.
Peter could not even accept that about himself. When the cock did crow three times and had realised that he had denied Jesus three times, when Jesus looked at him during the trial, he went out and wept. It was even worse for Judas, so full of remorse because of his betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, legend tells us he went out and committed suicide. The power of this lack of human acceptance of our weakness that leads to failure of our God and one another is strong. To suggest that you need to be God to realise that people around us are going to fail leads us to disappointment.
Males accounted for around 78% of suicide deaths and nearly 20% of all deaths amongst young men aged 20 to 34 were due to suicide. I can’t help wondering, based on personal experience and conversations I have had with people, that suicide is the option chosen to resolve an inability to cope with the reality of disappointment, in self and others. We are in great danger of disappointment when we expect of ourselves and others those things that attributes of God alone and not of humans. I think Christology and a mature Christian faith must begin from the perspective of Jesus humanity if we are going to consider how we become more like him.
This human starting point is the approach we must take as we come to celebrate and consider the transfiguration of Jesus. I have always contended that this experience was one of Jesus discovery of himself as much as it was of the disciples discovery of Jesus nature and identity. The human Jesus takes 3 of his disciples away to be ‘by themselves together’ as my dad says. It is Jesus custom to go up on to a mountain to pray, albeit a hill. It is for them intended to be a time of prayer. Indeed it is a significant time, where the disciples get a glimpse of Jesus’ messianic glory and Jesus is affirmed in his identity, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him’. In prayer Jesus is affirmed. It is in prayer, more often than not, that we get a glimpse of how much God loves us and affirms us.
The response of the disciples is truly encouraging for us in our humanity also. Peter, witnessing this event, opens his mouth to change his feet, ‘he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.’ It is often the case, even when we have dramatic experiences of God that we do not understand what is happening. There are many times when things happen and we do not understand why or what they mean. We do not have, or have to have, all the answers in order to relate to God. I have myself felt fear when God has revealed himself powerfully.
I was smiling inwardly on Thursday as a listened to a conversation among the members of the meditation group reflecting on the transforming work of God in their lives. It was exactly what the story of the transfiguration is about for us.
Transfiguration literally means to be changed in appearance, to be metamorphosed. It is, however, only a temporary change of appearance, but the internal change, the change within us, the shedding of past hurts, fears, imperfections, weaknesses, sins, dysfunctionality, oppressions, that enable the true us to be revealed. Our salvation is a process of transfiguration.
We are not called to be like God except as much as we are created in the image and likeness of God. We are called to be our fully human selves and the process of that revealing, that unveiling, I don’t want to say ‘that becoming’ because we are it already, however it is covered, hidden, and is to be revealed.
As individuals and as a faith community, our journey is the transfiguration journey. We are on the journey of moving into and towards that which we were created to be as God continues to say to us, ‘You are my Beloved.’ At times we will be confused and even frightened as God undertakes that work in us; we will, however, need to enter into the opportunities that God has and is giving us for our transfiguration to take place.