I once had an in class assignment to do when I was studying for ordination. The professor required all of us find someone else in the class that we did not know, or that at least we did not know every well and sit with them. I was put together with a lady who came into take just that class on Tuesday nights. I was one of the guys in the ordination stream who was quite comfortable sitting at the back of the class, paying attention and just doing my thing. I had to move up to the front of the class and was feeling somewhat silly about what came next. The assignment was this: We were to turn and face each other and look intently at one another for three whole minutes. Then we were to return to our seats and journal for ten minutes about what we saw and how we felt about what we saw.
Now please understand something. I have never thought of myself as someone who was hugely attractive nor did I think myself ugly either. If I thought I was any one thing it was invisible. I was the most popular guy’s loveable, affable sidekick. I was there, in the background ready for whatever but only just. So when this older lady was unable to look at me, I wasn’t surprised. The averting of her eyes to the floor or the chalk board accompanied by the fidgeting made it clear that this was going to be a long three minutes for her, for both of us.
So needless to say when it was time to go back to my seat and my anonymity, I bolted for my spot. I feverishly wrote down whatever was on my mind at that point and then prayed that we would be sent to our regularly scheduled coffee break. Sure enough after the ten minutes were up and we had passed in our reflections we were sent for our break. As I made for the door, this same dear soul tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could speak to me for a moment.
She asked me to sit down and then what she said to me nearly knocked me flat.
“I want you to know that it was not you that I could not look at,” she said. “I could see Jesus in you and it was him that I could not look at because he was so bright in his appearance. The light was almost intolerable it was so bright.” I leaned back in my chair in amazement as I listened to this woman and what she said she saw in me as she tried to watch.
It made me think of the Gospel that is appointed for this Sunday (Matthew 17.1-11). The disciples followed Jesus up the mountain and there, as he prayed, he was transfigured before them. His clothes, his body, his face and his company were all changed. Moses, the holder of the Torah, the Law and Elijah, the leader of the prophets came and spoke to Jesus. The conversation was about the coming exodus and how Jesus was going to lead into not only a new way of life, but more importantly into the new life itself. And then into the middle of the conversation (not knowing what it was he was actually advocating for) Peter interjects himself and suggests that they should stay in that place and maintain the moment for a lifetime. So there is no doubt in my mind that when they experienced the cloud and heard the voice of the Father, declaring Jesus to be his Son and insisting that the disciples listen to Jesus and what he is telling them: they got low and they got low fast.
It took both the voice and the touch of Jesus himself for the others to begin to realize that it was okay to look up and then get up. In essence, it was like Jesus had touched them and raised them from the dead. He brought them back from what they understood to be certain death – being in the presence of God and hearing the voice of the Almighty. In one felled swoop, God had not only made clear to these three men who Jesus was, he also settled the argument over who was in the lead and where they where going – to Jerusalem and the cross.
Following Jesus from this moment on also meant that the disciples were going to have to surrender to him and his leadership. They were going to have to let go of their agendas, their thoughts of power, prominence and glory. They were going to have to let go of their thoughts of revolution and revenge where the local government was concerned. And they were going to have to being to shift their thinking about how God is working in the world, to fall back in line and do as the Master does. Failure to do so leaves them acting like little devils who think they are in charge and in control. This means they have failed to listen and are becoming irrelevant to both the kingdom and to God.
So this week, take the time to see Jesus, even if it is only for a moment. Then live that vision out. Then do it all over again.