‘I want it and I want it now!’
How many of us have heard that at least once from a small child, caught up with a desire for some ‘thing’ – it’s easy to understand that when children are very small, they only grasp immediate satisfaction; the notion that we can’t just have what-we- want- when- we- want- it-all-the-time comes with maturity, as we grow and develop. An appreciation that we sometimes have to wait, or that things cost more than we are able to pay comes later in life for children. But sometimes, we don’t develop that maturity – or we forget. It is not at all uncommon anymore to hear the advertising mantra of ‘buy now – pay later’.
It is a reflection not only on our culture which stresses comfort and self-satisfaction; it is a reflection on basic human nature. We fail to grasp the cost of things – and when we fail to grasp the cost, we fail to appreciate; and when we fail to appreciate, we fail to live with a spirit of gratitude.
Take our first reading from the book of Genesis, in which we have one of the more strange appearances and visions of God’s presence in the Bible – but one that I think is the most fascinating. Here we have God making a covenant with Abram, promising him a land for his people, and promising him a people! ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars’…
It’s important to understand how a covenant was made in the region where Abram lived – this is not according to any Jewish custom, because this happens before there ‘is’ a Jewish people! A covenant was more than a simple agreement or contract – it lasted for life. And the reason for the placing of dismembered animal carcasses on the ground was so that the two parties of the agreement could walk or pass between the animal parts, and basically say, ‘let whoever breaks this covenant end up like these animals.’ In other words, they were calling a curse down upon themselves. They would call their deity to observe and witness their agreement, and exact a penalty on whoever broke it. Their gods only supervised covenants – they were not participants.
But this covenant and this God is different; here God participates directly in a covenant with His creature.
In this covenant with Abram, the animal parts are prepared, but God tells Abram not to pass between them. God makes his presence known in this strange vision of a smoking brazier and a flaming torch. Taken on its own, aside from an immediate gesture of generosity, this particular scene doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. God doesn’t break his promises. The only ones who continually breach the relationship between humans and God throughout the history of the Old Testament are humans. How could God exact a penalty on himself? How could God, the eternal, end up broken and bloody like these animal carcasses? So this particular scene of animals and flaming torches, on its own, really doesn’t make much sense.
Unless we view it through the Gospels.
Then the terms of the covenant begin to make perfect sense. Throughout history, age upon age, the relationship of love between God and his creation is filled with example after example of people turning away from that relationship; the covenant is broken. But since God took on both parts of the agreement, God bears the full penalty of that breach; He enters into our humanity in the person of Jesus, takes all of our weakness upon Himself, and in His humanity, is sacrificed for our sin.
That covenant scene between God and Abram takes on far greater significance when we view it through the lens of Jesus; Jesus, who is the fulfilment of God’s promises through the law and the prophets.
That brings us to Mt. Tabor in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke; we all see the glorified Christ quite easily – even Peter, James and John see that; but it is almost an unconscious act that we ‘gloss over’ the remark that St. Luke makes when he says that Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus and are speaking to Him about ‘his exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem’.
Moses and Elijah appear in glory, speaking with Jesus who is also appearing in glory, about his ‘exodus’. They’re talking about his impending passion and death, his crucifixion. Peter misses that point it seems.
He says, ‘Master it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings’ – he’s not talking about temporary shelter- he says ‘dwellings’, indicating a desire to simply stay and bask in the glory of this scene. He completely ignores the talk of the ‘exodus’ of the Passion of Jesus. He misses the point that the Transfiguration is only a ‘glimpse’ of the glory to come. There is the road to Calvary that has to be travelled first.
It doesn’t make Peter ‘bad’; it makes him human. But it is this failing in our humanity that often blinds us to the reality all around us in our world. Our society asks that problems simply ‘go away’ that poverty, sickness and violence be ‘dealt with’ by governments, by institutions and by organizations, as long as we personally are not inconvenienced or forced to ‘pay for it’. We want social ills cured – as if God will just take them all away; and at the same time we fail to see that in the people afflicted with these ills – the poor, the sick, the forgotten, the victimized – that Jesus is present to us in all of these.
We all desire to be identified with the glorified Christ on Mt. Tabor. The beaten, bloodied and crucified Christ on Mt Calvary? Not so much.
The teaching of covenant love in Genesis, and in the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus is quite clear; there is no glory on Mt. Tabor disconnected from the suffering on Mt. Calvary; there is a cost to the fulfilment of the covenant, the law and the prophets; God, in the person of Jesus, pays that cost for us. He enters into our world of trial and suffering and need and takes it all upon Himself for our sake. He gives so that we may receive.
We cannot be caught up simply in desiring to be one with the glorified Christ without recognizing with profound thanksgiving just what God has done for us. We can’t simply have the glory of heaven without entering into the passion of this world. We need to understand that the joy and sweetness of the resurrection is found when we pass through our world, sharing with grateful hearts the goodness of God in our own lives, with Jesus in the poor of the world.
Once we acknowledge deeply in our hearts that covenant, crucifixion and glory are all part of the same ‘package’, we can honestly turn to God, and say;
‘I want it, and I want it now!’
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!