Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Peter was right and wrong. He was right that it was good for the three disciples to experience the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. What an experience to have a vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah. The Law & the Prophets. It could not be more symbolic and hope filled.
And yet Peter was wrong to try to capture the moment in three dwellings, as if to keep that moment bottled up, so it wouldn’t change.
It seems to me that we often try, like Peter to capture our understandings, our moments, box them in, build our dwellings and refuse to let them change.
I read an article in the New Yorker this week titled “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds: New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.” The article looked at several studies on how researchers found that “once formed, impressions are remarkably perseverant.” Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs.”
In other words, we stubbornly hold to our facts, our understandings, even when we learn that what we are holding on to is no longer true. There are still those who believe we live on a flat earth.
As Christians, Jesus calls us down the mountain, to be transformed by the truth, not to encase ourselves or others in dwellings, closing our minds but to be open to what God might be doing & calling us to do…
In 1955, Endre and Ilona Marton were journalists in their native Hungary. Their reporting provided the rest of the world with the real story of a country brutalized by the Hungarian Stalinist state. Over time, the Hungarian secret police closed in on the Martons and arrested them. But the couple managed to survive more than a year of harsh imprisonment and a humiliating show trial for espionage, and eventually escaped to a new life in the United States.
Endre and Ilona's daughter Kati Marton is an award-winning journalist in her own right. With access to the thousands of pages of secret files the state police had collected on her parents, Kati Marton reconstructs Endre and Ilona's story in the powerful and absorbing book Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America.
In these secret files, Kati rediscovers her parent's courageous stand against the Communist regime and their uncompromising fight for human rights and justice. Kati writes that neighbors, colleagues, supposed friends - even the girls' nanny - informed on and betrayed her mother and father. She recounts the risks they took to file stories for the Associated Press and how her parents' marriage began to crack under the pressure.
But after their arrests, Endre and Ilona found new strength to support one another and keep their family together. Kati also reads, in her reticent father's own words, his love for his wife, Kati and her sister Juli, and his readiness to sacrifice his life in order to save them from Communist brutality. Kati, who was only a child at the time, realizes how the experience especially transformed her mother. Kati writes:
"Papa's arrest transformed Mama. I had never seen her as determined as she was during the four months between his arrest and her own. Perhaps because she had lost her primary audience, my father, she lost her dramatic personality. She had two small children who were now utterly dependent on her alone - and a very shaky sense of her own future. Vanished was the self-indulgence I associated with her . . . Now [she] focused all her energy on saving him and protecting us. Her entire life until that moment - a life of loss and survival - had prepared her for this."
Ilona ignored her husband's advice to divorce him and leave Hungary; instead, she continued his dangerous work of filing news stories for Associated Press and fighting for his freedom.
Prison "had strengthened my parents' marriage . . . It was something they had shared and survived, as they shared and survived the nightmare of the Nazi occupation. They were welded together by loss, confinement, war, jail, and, finally, love."
Kati Marton's memoir is a story of transfiguration - how forgiveness, justice and love can be the vehicles for transforming one's life in the midst of despair, hatred and vengeance. The figure of Christ on Mount Tabor calls us to the upcoming Lenten work of transfiguration - to transform the crosses laid on our shoulders & others into the compassion and hope of the Easter resurrection.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that "God places us in the world as God's fellow workers - agents of transfiguration. We work with God so that injustice is transfigured into justice, so that there will be more compassion and caring, so that there will be more laughter and joy, so that there will be more togetherness in God's world."
The weeks ahead call us to descend the mountain with the transfigured Jesus and to take up our crosses – whatever they may be - and realize the sacred goodness and value we possess that enables us to bring the glory of Easter into our lives and the lives of those we love, so there will be more laughter and joy, truth and togetherness.
Again in the words of Desmond Tutu: “God asks us to be agents of transfiguration; the God who could transfigure an instrument of the most excruciatingly painful and shameful death so that it becomes the source of a tingling, effervescent, bubbling eternal life. To proclaim that nothing, no one, no situation could ever be untransfigurable. Nothing, no one, no situation is beyond redemption, is totally devoid of hope. This God who could snuff out all troublemakers, does not dispatch perpetrators of evil, those who rule unjustly and oppress others. No, God waits, waits on us as those who will provide the bread and the fish so that God can perform God's miracles to end injustice and oppression, to end war, disease and ignorance.”
God waits on us to come down the mountain & to be his workers, his agents of transfiguration in our world today. Amen.