The Last Sunday after The Epiphany
Who Are Those Guys?
In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, you have two outlaws being chased relentlessly by a pack of horsemen and a cloud of dust. Throughout the movie, Butch and the Kid stop, look over their shoulders and ask (at least four times), “Who are those guys?” One might say that is the theme of the movie itself: Who are those guys? Which is pretty much the heart of the issue for this week’s episode from Luke 9: 28-36, an episode that is found in Matthew and Mark as well – Who is that guy? Who is this Jesus anyway?
Much of the Christian Scriptures, commonly referred to as the “New Testament,” can be seen as the attempts of a diverse company of writers to tell us something of who Jesus is. This is not the same as those who attempt to prove that Jesus did or did not exist – both of which enterprises rise and fall on how they choose to map out the question of “existence” - which seems by no means a settled category of argument in and of itself.
This question of existence may equally be applied to Homer, Socrates, the Buddha, Mohammed, and just about every great, new and revolutionary figure in human history that made a point of leaving no personal permanent record of their own “existence” - they wrote nothing themselves. The question very well might be, Do we willingly wish to deprive ourselves of the great contributions made to the understanding of what it means to be human, even what it means simply to Be, just because we do or do not “believe” there is some verifiable human figure behind the recorded lives and wisdom these figures and others represent?
It seems to me that the very fact that someone will go to the heroic effort to deny their existence speaks volumes about the persistence of their “existence” in human history! Their influence continues to animate even their detractors. An astonishing accomplishment for those said never to have existed at all, or who are made out to be the mere fabrication of myth-makers and narcissistic cult devisors.
And then there are the efforts of sincere folks like The Jesus Seminar and The Jesus Project which attempt to extract “the Jesus of history” from the “Christ of tradition.” One has to hand it to the Jesus Project who suspended their inquiry upon realizing that aside from a handful of corroborating historical references “the tradition” is pretty much all we have for Jesus. Leaving us with Luke’s solution to the problem of Jesus perhaps being the best possible approach:
“And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.”
Really? Peter, James and John had just witnessed their friend Jesus’ appearance change, his clothes turn dazzling white, and suddenly two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him “of his departure, which we was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Then came the voice: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him. When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” And we are meant to believe that they told no one – no one, not one other person, any of the things they had seen?
Surely as they witnessed this moment of transfiguration, an episode read the Last Sunday after the Epiphany each year, AND on the Feast of the Transfiguration every August 6 – the latter turning out to be an auspicious convergence of reading about Jesus turning dazzling, flashing white now recalled on the day when the skies over Hiroshima turned dazzling, flashing white, transfiguring not only the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in that city, and those who planned and carried out the attack, but also human history and the history of human warfare forever – surely Peter, James and John were asking themselves, “Who is this guy?”
As sad a footnote to history as has ever been wrought – to have one of the most transcendent events in human history, witnessed by three subsequently mute characters, forever linked to one of the most problematic events in human history, one which continues to haunt and challenge human existence itself.
This brings us back to the problem of “existence.” Any given day, judging from seemingly random postings on Facebook, twitter and the vast array of the blogasphere, most of us see existence as some kind of problem. So it was back in the garden when the man and the woman, adam and adama, ate the fruit of the tree and hid themselves. So it is today. Is the Jesus of the New Testament at all different from the God in Genesis chapter 3, who, we are told, in the cool of the evening was walking through the garden and calls out to Adam, “Where are you?”
While we spend are countless hours, days, months and years pondering Who is that guy, that guy continues to intrude upon our hiding places and ask, “Where are you?” That’s the question for all of us, isn’t it? Where are we? What are we doing? Why does it even matter?
It matters because either God is God, and we don’t do enough to acknowledge that with our lives. Or, God is not God, and it is our fault. It must not be our fault. It is our privilege. A few minutes silently contemplating where we are cannot only transfigure our own countenance, but can make a difference in the lives of others and in the life of the whole world.
Oh, Peter, James and John – did they really say nothing to anyone about what they had seen and heard that day on the mountain top with Jesus? And how does Luke know anyway? These remain questions for another day. Right now we might content ourselves with the one question that matters: Where are you?