By Mike Hansen
First Reading: Gen 12:1-4
Second Reading: 2 Tm 1:8-10
Gospel: Mt 17:1-9
About four times a year, which roughly corresponds to the old school terms, I get a short haircut. I can tell when it is time as my eyebrows resemble those of former prime minister Robert Menzies and the hair around my ears makes me look like one of our national emblems, the koala. My physical appearance changes and I am transformed into a more than reasonably acceptable image of a classroom teacher. The change preserves the image of what I want others to know about me… someone careful of my appearance, one who conforms to certain norms of professional dress and style… the very image of a “modern major general” in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The problem is that I have to undergo this process at least four times a year just to keep pace with my physical processes and societal expectations. I might transform myself every so often… unlike Jesus, who reveals his hidden beauty to his friends in a once-off moment of elevated intensity.
When I walk into a classroom after the hairdresser has done her work on me, one of the students is sure to say, “You’ve had a haircut!” … stating the bleeding obvious. It is a little spark of recognition that does not effect the dynamics of the routine nor influence anyone’s behaviour. Not so in the case of Jesus and his friends.
On that mountaintop, Jesus shines like the sun, heaven opens, prophets appear, God speaks to his people as of old. The apostles are overcome with awe… they bustle about wanting to capture the moment by building structures that can preserve the event and capture the essence of what has happened and what they have seen and heard. Such a human response. They do not pause and soak up the moment, internalise what they are witnessing nor try to accommodate this different reality of the Jesus they know. It seems from the Biblical account that God himself has to intervene and instruct the apostles to “listen” to Jesus. And it is Jesus who comes to his friends with a gentle touch… and they look up to find themselves alone with The Lord. He tells them not to be fearful with what has happened. And as they leave the mountaintop together Jesus begins to explain aspects of what has happened, especially regarding the appearance of Elijah. As for the rest of their experience it seems that they are to wait and keep it to themselves… no doubt the apostles will mull over it in the weeks and months to come, drawing meaning and strength from wat they have been witness to.
In many ways, this is such a human experience! We have all had ‘mountain top experiences’. We try and capture them on film or photographs, we fill our diary pages and we store as many aspects of the moment as close as possible to our memory and hearts. Such moments not only enrich our lives but they sustain us in the dark and lonely times assuring us that we are not alone nor insignificant.
So, Jesus and his friends leave behind the heady experience of the mountain top and proceed down into the lowlands to face the reality of the mission of bringing the message of the coming of the kingdom to ordinary folk. They will need all the strength and understanding from their time close to heaven for what they will soon be called upon to do and endure.
It is the same with us, too. Those exquisite moments of realisation when heaven seems to open and light fills the air sustain us in the everyday. We draw power from the knowledge that there is beauty and grace in the world. We have seen it, and we are assured that God is always close in the person of Jesus with his gentle touch of peace, a peace that takes away fear and brings consolation.