Awake and Ready for Surprise

Awake and Ready for Surprise

Homily for the Last Sunday in Epiphany

February 11, 2024

Awake and Ready for Surprise

Homily for Sunday, February 11, 2024
The Last Sunday After the Epiphany
Mark 9:2-9

Mountains are the Bible’s way of cuing us that we are in “threshold” space, that something is about to happen, that things are going to change. And I want to get back to the Bible and mountains and threshold space, but first, the contemporary American photographer Joel Meyerowitz.  Meyerowitz is perhaps best known to us herein Massachusetts for his photographs of Cape Cod.  In the photography world, he seems best-known for his gift, not of composing the “perfect” photograph with everything lined up “just so,” but of seeing and capturing whatever it is that is unfolding right in front of him.  In his own words:

I’m actually not “hunting” when I’m out on the street, and I’m not “looking for” anything.  I don’t know what to expect.  The world is rich with surprises, far greater than I could invent.  I never look for anything; I just wait.  If you’re out there, things happen.  One of the reasons that [so many] photographs are so boring is that people go hunting, and they hunt for only what’s in their minds.  And usually that’s not up to the richness of things that are happening...  (“Paris Photo” interview, 2016)  

Back to the Bible and mountains and threshold space…. Mountains are the Bible’s way of cuing us that we are in “threshold” space, that something important is about to happen, that things are going to change.  For example, it was out of the burning bush on Mt. Horeb that God called Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery (Ex 3).  It was around Mt. Sinai that the people of Israel gathered to make a covenant with God (Ex 19ff).  It was on Mt Gilboa that King Saul and his sons died in battle, giving way to the reign of King David (1 Sam 31; 2 Sam1-2).  It was on a mountain that Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7).  And it was from a mountain that Jesus commissioned the disciples to “Go… and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19). In the Bible, mountains are threshold spaces that cue us that something important is about to happen, that things are going to change.  

Similarly, today’s Gospel lesson, the story of the Transfiguration, takes place on a mountain – “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart,by themselves.”  On this mountain, things are about to change.  In today’s text Mark describes one level on which things change.  Mark writes:

And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

But there is a deeper change,a change that Mark only alludes to:

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi,it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 

This change within the disciples as “they were eye-witnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet 1:16-18) we can only imagine.  But Fr. Maximos Constas,formerly on faculty at Harvard and also at Hellenic College in Brookline, gives it a try.  Fr. Constas writes:

The disciples on the mountain underwent a change of perception, a shift that enabled them to see the divine light at the heart of all creation.  (The Art of Seeing)

All of the sudden, in a flash, on the mountain the disciples “underwent a change of perception,” a shift that momentarily allowed them to see (continues Constas – (deep breath)):

…the union of… God and creation in the person of Jesus Christ, the dwelling of the light in… the flesh, a foretaste of the second coming, a prototype of the resurrection; a revelation of the true nature of humanity… the re-clothing of Adam in the garments of grace, the union of the spiritual and the material, the return from exile of the severed halves of the world.  (The Art of Seeing)

Seeing all this, no wonder the disciples (in Matthew’s account) “fell to the ground and were overcome by fear” (Mt 17:6)!   But credit to Peter,James and John for being open to seeing Jesus transfigured, for being open to being surprised and seeing what (and who) was in front of them, and for not – to use Meyerowitz’s words – [for not] “hunting” for “only what’s on their minds.”   Peter, James and John could see and experience the Transfiguration. Perhaps that’s why of the twelve Jesus took only Peter, James and John –because he knew that the others were yet caught in their pre-conceived notions of who Jesus was and who they were and did not yet have the capacity to see the full breadth and richness of Jesus and of their identities in Christ.  

In the same interview, Meyerowitz went on to say what he thinks is going on inside of him that enables him to take pictures of what is in front of him:

What I think is alive in me is a waiting for a moment of real awake-ness in which something happens, and I’m suddenly there and understanding its potential resonance in me for meaning, to my finding my identity again and again in a new form in the world at large.  (“Paris Photo” interview, 2016)

Put another way, Meyerowitz is aware of his capacity to undergo (like Peter, James and John on the mountain)a change of perception, a shift that enables him to see the world around him in a different light.   And it’s a change Meyerowitz allows to shape who he is, to “find his identity again and again in a new form.”

As we stand at the cusp of Lent, I wonder if the Transfiguration’s invitation to us is to allow ourselves not to “hunt” for the Jesus we think we already know, but to allow ourselves (as Meyerowitz puts it) “a moment of real awake-ness” in which we don’t know what to expect.  For Jesus is rich with surprise; he is far greater than anything or anyone we could invent.  If we can allow ourselves to climb this “mountain” that is Lent with an openness to being surprised – surprised about who Jesus is or about what he is capable of in our lives; or surprised about ourselves, what are our own capacities for change and growth – [if we can allow ourselves to climb the “mountain” of Lent with an openness to being surprised], perhaps we will come to glimpse – kind of like Meyerowitz does in his photography, like the disciples did on the mountain – what is right in front of us, something that has the capacity to help us find our true identity again and again, which is: Jesus, who invites us all to see him as he is.




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