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Tuesday 6 August 2019: Transfiguration of Our Lord

Beyond Appearances

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Luke 9:28-36


By Brett Ward

Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Eltham in the Anglican Diocese of Southwark


Context: Parish Mass in a diverse, lively, thoughtful suburban congregation

Aim: to explore the concept of ‘the eye of the heart’


The Transfiguration is unusual, we hear it twice a year. Today, on its feast, and earlier in the year on the Sunday before Lent (for us Anglicans), and during Lent for most others. But although it’s familiar to most of us, it’s also one of the more difficult Gospel stories.


Familiar or not?

Reading it again has left me wondering if we might look at the Transfiguration of Jesus from a different perspective. I was left wondering if the immense change that happens in this story isn’t a change to Jesus but a change to the three disciples: to Peter, James and John.

The whole experience is mysterious and overloaded with symbolism, some of which we might pick up quickly, while we’ll probably find that other aspects of the story leave us puzzled and pondering.

We get a hint of the resurrection, still a long way off. We get clear signs that Jesus is understood as the one who is fulfilling all the ancient promises of the Hebrew Law and the prophets. The fact that it’s happening on a mountain top echoes Moses and the Ten Commandments. Perhaps it even contains a suggestion of the story of Abraham when he almost sacrificed his son Isaac on the mountain top. The ‘departure’ they were discussing was literally an ‘exodus,’ so there are plenty of hints of other parts of the ancient stories too. You get the idea.


Looking differently

So far, then, it sounds like I’ve contradicted myself. All these things happening to Jesus – how can it be that it wasn’t he who was transfigured?

But what strikes me as we reflect more deeply on the passage is that all these things about Jesus were already there. They were already part of who he was, already part of the truth about him. But no one had seen them yet. There’d been occasional glimpses, hints, passing allusions. But no one had seen it all together in the way it was seen all together here on the top of Mount Tabor.

And the reason for that is because when we look, we usually look with our eyes. We see what’s there on the surface (which is hardly surprising, since that’s what our eyes are intended to do). But to look with our eyes, with what one writer calls ‘the eyes of the mind,’ is at best partial.

When we look with the eyes of our mind we see in a way which is influenced by our prejudices, shaped by our fears, our immediate concerns, our preconceptions about what we’re going to see. We see through a prism of our own making.

Look at someone on the street – or even at someone sitting on the other side of church – and we see with the eyes of our mind. We make assumptions and judgements based on the cut of their jacket or their age, their grooming or their accent.

The huge change that happened in the Transfiguration is that, unlike every bit of seeing they’d ever done before, the disciples didn’t look with the eyes of their mind. They were changed. They were transfigured.

It was as if their chests were ripped open and for the first time they saw with what we can call the eye of the heart. And that new kind of seeing makes all the difference. The eye of the heart is the eye that looks at the world from the place where God dwells – which is within each of us.

For the first time, they saw clearly the person who had been in front them and alongside them the whole time. As they looked with the eye of their heart, they looked at Jesus with all their faults and preconceptions and narrow failings stripped away. As they looked with the eye of their heart, they were able to see as God sees, to see with perfect clarity like they’d never seen before.

It was only a moment. The disciples returned to the bumbling, well-intentioned but sinful characters they were before.


Becoming different

Except they didn’t. Because once they’d begun to look with the eye of the heart, once they’d been transfigured, there was no going back. God had opened to them a new way of seeing, a clearer way of seeing, and life had to be different. The way ahead was slow, winding and perilous, but they’d been given a new momentum in walking that way with the Lord.

The Transfiguration is an experience we’re all invited to enter. This inner eye, this eye of the heart, is a way of looking which is the way of wisdom, the way of love. In the 5th Century, St Augustine wrote: ‘Our whole task in life is to heal the eye of the heart so that God may be seen.’

Once that eye is healed and open, everything we see is transfigured. We see a world charged with God’s grandeur, individuals made in his image and loved by him, we see ourselves as unique and beautiful people. We see without prejudice, without fear. We see the glory of God which isn’t just revealed on the mountaintop, but in the world’s darkest places as well as on the High Street and in our homes.

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