Thursday, August 3, 2017

Put On White

On Sunday, Jesus' clothes and countenance will become a dazzling white as he is transfigured before Peter, James, and John in Luke 9. In that moment, the Father's voice will say from a cloud, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" As it is portrayed to us, that voice is speaking to the disciples. It is telling them about Jesus. It is God's way of identifying for them that Jesus is his chosen one and one worth listening to. But a few chapters earlier in Luke's account, the Father spoke similar words to a different audience that may be worth considering here.

Back in Luke 3: 21-22, Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan. Luke describes for us how the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. (Luke likes concrete images.) Then, a voice from heaven declared, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." Sure, some of the words are different--beloved instead of chosen and well pleased instead of worth listening to--but the form is parallel. God identifies his Son and declares him worthy. The interesting difference is that in the baptismal account, God is addressing Jesus directly. God speaks to his Son, saying, "YOU are my Son." We don't know whether anyone else heard the voice, but it doesn't really matter. Clearly, the words were meant for Jesus. In his baptism, Jesus hears the Father claiming him as his Son. In his transfiguration, the disciples hear the Father claiming Jesus as his Son.

Maybe it's taken six chapters for a sufficient foundation to be laid before the Father could make this declaration to these disciples. Only Jesus' three closest companions were allowed access to this mountain-top experience. Perhaps they were the only ones who were ready to hear this voice. Maybe the truth that was declared to Jesus in his baptism was invisible to the world until it took shape through the miracles he performed, the teachings he presented, and the social barriers he broke. And, then, maybe it was only visible to these few. Maybe it takes the rest of us a little bit longer for that voice to make sense to us. Maybe that's why the three disciples kept silent about these things.

What about our identity as God's chosen sons and daughters, his beloved children? We believe that identity is proclaimed for us at baptism: "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever." Often we baptize little babies, whose godliness is reflected in their cuteness. Nothing could be more precious than a sweet infant. But do we see God's own children in that moment? In the white robes that children wear during their christening, can we see the radiance of God's light shining through? Or does it take a lifetime for that chosenness to take shape so that the rest of us can see it. Maybe the work belongs not to the baptismal candidate but to the congregation--the community of faith that beholds a child who grows from sweet infant into the holy terror that is a two-year-old. Maybe we need to look for the baptismal identity even before it has taken shape in plain ways. What was Mother Teresa like as a child? When did John Paul II become holy? Was it not when God called them his beloved children--long before they did anything worth writing about?

This Sunday, we will hear God declare Jesus his beloved Son, his Chosen, one worth listening to. In part, he says the same to each of us at our baptism. Will we wait until we get to the top of the mountain before we look for that chosenness in each of us?

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