After the Transfiguration
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 9, 2015
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (17:14-23)
Right after the Transfiguration we are invited to contemplate the story of the father, his epileptic son and the faithlessness of the apostles. It is on the one hand a touching story of the father’s desperate love for his child. On the other it is about the inability of his apostles to comprehend the message Jesus had been trying to teach them.
It is notable that this occurs after the Transfiguration and James, Peter and John were witnesses of this revelation of Christ’s effulgent divinity. And yet they were not able to put two and two together and minister to the boy and his father. They did not yet understand what Christ as Emmanuel, “God with us,” meant and were not able to grasp the radical nature of his presence with them.
If we truly knew and believed that God is fully present in this world our lives would change radically. His life, already embedded in us, would become our conscious existence.
“There are some of you standing here who will not die before they see the kingdom come with power,” Jesus tells his apostles before the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration fulfils that promise. The “some of you” refers to the three apostles. The “kingdom come with power” is the Lord himself and the Transfiguration reveals him to be precisely that. Even a tiny little faith in the presence of Christ and the kingdom in their midst would have been enough for the disciples to minister to the boy and his dad. Something must have gotten in the way. Simply put, the disciples got in their own way!
I can imagine that their failed attempts to heal the boy must have frustrated them. I dearly wish Matthew had written about it. Perhaps it was like the priests of Baal vainly attempting to call down fire on their sacrifice in the competition with Elijah. Whatever the case, I can imagine that what got in the way was their prideful parts at first (“We can do this! How we will amaze the people!”) and then more and more their angry and shameful parts at being unable to be successful in front of what Matthew tells us was a multitude of people.
Faith calls for clarity of inner vision and peace and calmness of mind. There is never a personal agenda when faith is at work and no hidden agenda. The presence of a personal agenda betrays the fact that the purpose behind the action is governed not by faith, but rather by the desire for personal gain of some kind. Jesus tells them that to do the kind of faith called for in healing, “prayer and fasting” are necessary.
Again, let’s not be too literal. Prayer and fasting are catchwords for deep spiritual and psychological work that may well include them and other things as well. The point is to establish internal equilibrium, to calm and pacify any part in us that would get in the way of faith, and to clarify the senses, spiritual and physical that are needed to do the work of Christ in this world and get in the flow of the Spirit who is absolute peace and unmitigated freedom, bound by nothing.
Jesus’ describes what the experience is like when he tells his disciples that the faithful will have “rivers of living water” flowing from within. He describes the Sprit like the wind which blows where it wills, free, wild, unbounded and then says that those who believe will also be like that.
This beautiful poem by Rumi describes the very same experience in poetry..
When you do things from your soul,
you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
When actions come from another section, the feeling disappears..........
Don't insist on going where you think you want to go.
Ask the way of Spring.
Your living pieces will form a harmony.
It is interesting that a Western saint, Hildegard of Bingen, refers to the experience of Christ in the same terms as Rumi, calling him “the Spring.” She continues the metaphor declaring that those who seek to live his life will experience what she calls the pouring forth from their souls of a “greening love” that will rush to give aid to all.
Entering the flow of the Spirit is the destiny of all who utilize the tools of the spiritual life to nurture love for God, neighbor and self, to bring harmony and peace to their souls, who seek to enter the kingdom of heaven within and who are open to sharing what they find by the practice of sacred mindfulness and compassion for the whole of creation.