Lectionary 25; Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
Even to the present day generations of Americans have been brought up with an image of the American west as a land of opportunity. How many of us have friends or family members who moved to Texas, California, Arizona or other points west to find work or a new beginning in life? This is no new phenomenon in our country either: a nineteenth century saying often attributed to Horace Greeley advises: “Go west, young man…”.
The idea of leaving everything behind and striking out afresh brings with it both risks and possibly great rewards. In today’s readings we witness just such a movement taking place as Abram departs from his homeland: “Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Going forth from security and certainty into the unknown is a fundamental theme of biblical revelation. Even though he appears in the early chapters of Genesis Abram is not the first example of this: already after the murder of Abel Cain is sent out and banished to “the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Gen 4:16).
Later in the biblical narrative the quintessential story of setting forth into the unknown is found when the people of Israel depart from the land of Egypt at the time of the Exodus. They were leaving a place where they were slaves, yet they were secure in their slavery; they had food and shelter and above all a predictable life: their lot was grim but it required of them no decision, no risk, or no leap of faith. Not so their exodus, which required them to leave behind everything they knew and take up an itinerary of faith and trust.
A similar kind of setting forth in faith begins to be revealed in the gospel as Jesus is transfigured before the eyes of Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor. Just as the Lord made the initial promise of blessing to Abram as he ordered him forth in the pages of Genesis: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you” (Gen 12:2), so too Christ now extends to his three closest disciples the invitation to follow him and he provides them with a frank forecast of what that discipleship will require of them. Their journeys will not be as lonely as that of Abram but they will take these three apostles—and similar journeys will take all who seek to follow the Lord—places they did not expect to go.
Eventually the “going forth” of Peter, James and John will bring them to their own moments of trial: as Abram encountered hardships, threats, and betrayal during his journey from his ancestral homeland of Ur into the promised land, so also Jesus’ three closest disciples—and all the apostles—would deal with adversity and outright hostility as they proclaimed the Good News. But just as they followed in Abram’s footsteps with respect to adversity so too they would become like him a source of definitive blessing for all the nations, helping to extend the blessing of Abram to the whole world. To do this they first came to understand that Jesus was the “beloved Son” in whom God was well pleased (Matt 17:5), and then they set forth after his resurrection, no longer afraid (Matt 17:7) but strengthened by the Spirit of Christ within them.
We all have a journey to make in life, and as Christians it is defined by our trust in God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Taking courage from Peter, James, and John, let us resolve to be so moved by the Transfiguration that we too will be able to “go forth” in faith, entrusting our journey to the Lord and knowing that in him we already have arrived at our final destination.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.