A God of Small Things
2 Peter 1.16 We have not depended on
made-up stories to make known to you the mighty coming of our Lord Jesus
The story of how Jesus went up a
hill with three of his followers and was there transformed is
traditionally taken to be a sign which demonstrates the unique godliness
of Jesus. Even though he was truly and fully a man, he was also able to
transcend the usual limitations of humanity and enter into his rightful
role as the Son of the Father.
For Christian teachers, the significance of the event
has been heightened over the years by obvious echoes of
theophanies in the Old Testament. God's dazzling light shines on Moses
when he climbs Mount Sinai. Elijah experiences the divine as "the soft
whisper of a voice" while Daniel sees God's angel "whose voice sounded
like the roar of a great crowd".
That we celebrate the Transfiguration at all is an
anomaly. Few today know that the Feast of the Transfiguration
is a recent invention by the Church. It dates back only to 1547 when
Pope Callistus III ordered it kept to celebrate victory over the infidel
armies of the evil Turks - hardly a good reason then or now.
A much more important difficulty is the nature of the
story itself. Few scholars in the last two or three centuries have been
able to give it a clean bill of health. It has been interpreted a
"symbolic narrative" designed to express the disciples' conviction that
Jesus was the Messiah. Some think it is an actual event of some sort
which has been transformed into myth by credulous early Christians. Few
can accept is as an account of something significant which really
Today the story is generally greeted with at best
suspended belief and at worst with derision as blatant untruth, a sort
of ecclesiastical spin designed to trick simple people into believing
the unbelievable. That is, far from illuminating Jesus to us, it has
become a barrier between him and the ordinary thinking person. It
requires tortuous interpretation to be understood.
What the are we to make of it if we pay any attention
at all to the Christian year?
Perhaps it's best to simply pass it by - or allow it
to pass us by with blank incomprehension and a weary tolerance of the
Church's silly ways. At least that route allows us to turn our attention
to matters which genuinely engage us.
Better is to recognise in the tale the expression of a
way of understanding God's world no longer useful to most people. We
don't resonate to myths and fables as our forebears once did - or at any
rate, not in the same way. Such stories are in one sense merely quaint;
in another they are useful metaphors to help us think about the world we
know. At their best, myths enliven timeless questions and dilemmas, joys
and agonies, triumphs and tragedies.
But we mustn't let biblical myths and fables obscure
the person of Jesus, that flesh and blood person upon whose life and
words Christians choose to base their journeys.
A superhuman being who talks to God and his saints on
a mountain top isn't much help. We are ordinary mortals, willy-nilly
confined to the lowlands of human existence. That's where Jesus meets us
most completely - and let's not forget it.
We don't need made-up stories to understand that the
glory of God is found, not in strange or miraculous events, but in the
ordinary and the mundane. Jesus has brought us a God of small things.