There is a short story written in the early part of the 20th century by the Bohemian author, Franz Kafka. The story, his signature piece, is called Metamorphosis. If you have never read it, the tale is a bit bizarre. The main character, Gregor, is a man living with his parents and younger sister. He wakes up, at the beginning of the story, only to discover that overnight he has turned into an enormous, hideous insect!
What would be the first thing on your mind if that had happened to you? Remarkably, one of the first things he considers is that now he will likely miss the train and be late for work! Gregor is the main bread winner for the family, and they all are dependent upon him for their income.
When he does not come out of his room to begin the day, his family becomes anxious and they knock on his door to make sure he is alright. For obvious reasons, he finds it difficult to communicate with them. His mouth and lungs are very different than they had been, and so he cannot speak well. Once they do finally enter his room and see what he has become, the separation grows even more pronounced. Far from feeling sorry for his unusual change of state, they are repulsed by him.
Eventually, Gregor’s boss comes to the house, irritated that he has not shown up for work. He complains through the door of Gregor’s room that he has not been working up to his potential anyway. Gregor tries to tell him off, but he is unable to communicate. This odd story continues until Gregor is finally disregarded by even his own family. He dies isolated and alone, completely disconnected from everyone and everything around him.
The story is a metaphor about life, the world according to Franz Kafka. Obviously, it is a very dark world. His point is that the mysterious forces of this world—fate, destination or mere chance—will inexorably work against us and we simply become separated and isolated from family and friends, unable to ever really connect with the world around us.
Sadly, in the world today, there are many people that find themselves in this Kafkaesque reality. No, not that they have discovered that they are an enormous insect, but that they have become isolated and confused as they struggle through life. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exaggerated that reality for many people. Family members are struggling to connect with each other, and individuals are finding themselves more and more separated from the people around them. Many suffering souls find themselves very much alone.
How very different is the view of the human person that we are given in the Gospel! What a beautiful and hope-filled vision Jesus shares with us today. St. Mark relates that, “Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:2-3).
Jesus was transfigured. His form appeared to change, to the amazement of His disciples. The Greek word St. Mark uses to describe that reality is metemorphothe, the same word that Kafka uses for his story. It does not mean that Jesus became any different than He already was, but that His disciples could now see Him in the divine nature that had previously been hidden from their eyes. They had caught glimpses of it when He performed miracles, had heard a whisper of it when He preached the Gospel, but now they could see Him in all His glory and they were stupefied.
If we look to St. Paul and his Letter to the Philippians, we can perhaps get a better idea of what these disciples experienced. St. Paul writes:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form (Greek, morphe) of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of (Greek, morphen) a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Essentially, the Son of God did not grasp the divinity in such a way that He would consider it unreasonable to become a man. He, who is always in the form of God, willingly and lovingly took on the form of a servant when He became a man to set us free from sin. Therefore, says St. Paul, “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
This is what the disciples saw on the top of Mount Tabor! They saw the one who had always been with them, Jesus the Christ, but that divine form that had been hidden from them was now manifest in all its glory. It was a remarkable and amazing metamorphosis that they would never forget.
One important question that I would like to propose this morning is: Why is Jesus transfigured?
Why does Christ manifest Himself before the disciples in all His glory on the mountain? Why was He transfigured before them? Pope St. Leo the Great, in the 5th century, says that there are at least two reasons why Jesus does that.
The first is to strengthen them for that time when the passion and cross of Christ would arrive. In order to prepare them for the scandal of he cross, when Christ will undergo the humiliation of being rejected, spat upon, beaten and crucified, Jesus reveals Himself in His glory so that they might stand fast when that terrible moment comes. Of course, historically, we know that they were barely able to persevere in their faith until the resurrection. How much more would they have struggled had He not given them a glimpse of what was to follow?
The second reason why Jesus is transfigured before the disciples, says Pope Leo the Great, is to show them where they were called to be: With Jesus in glory! In other words, this thing ends really, really well! No matter how difficult the struggles of life may be, we recognize that Christ is calling us to share with Him in eternal glory. That changes things.
What is important for us to see in this account of the Transfiguration is that we are not isolated, we are not alone. We are not unable to connect and communicate with our families, friends and loved ones, despite the global pandemic and whatever other challenges we face. God is with us, and He will never leave us. St. Paul says it best in our second reading this morning:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Friends in Christ, this is our Journey of Lent. We are called to come down from the mountain and go back up with Christ. We enter into the life and death of Christ so that we may also share most fully in His resurrection (see Philippians 3:10-11). Christ teaches us clearly that it is only through the passion, through embracing the cross, that we arrive at the resurrection and the glory of God. May we make that journey with Him this Lent, and so be all the more ready to share in Easter joy.