I'm not certain what happened in today's Gospel on that mountaintop. Various Scripture commentators explain it differently. We call it Transfiguration: the face of Jesus shines as the sun, his clothes reflect brilliant light; two Jewish heroes of the past, Moses and Elijah appear, and a voice declares Jesus to be God's Beloved One. It's certainly an unexpected and overwhelming experience for Peter, James and John.
Have you ever had a remarkable experience in your lives: an extraordinary moment : without alcohol! : when your life simply came together for you : the sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes : all merging to make a moment that puts you in another dimension? I have. After I met Anna (the woman who later became my wife), I took time off from parish work to decide whether to remain celibate or get married. It was a challenging and anxiety-filled decision for me. I was alone at a friend's cabin in Whitefish Bay in Door County. I still recall this dark and dismal November morning over 40 years ago. My mood reflected the gloominess of the day, when suddenly a brilliant sunshine broke through the darkness, turning the water of Lake Michigan into countless sparkling diamond-like water droplets bobbing up and down in the waves. I was listening to a Mozart concerto at the time and was intrigued by the interplay of the glistening water seemingly dancing in time to the piano music. I was mesmerized by it all, transformed into a world of beauty and wonder. Time stood still. I calmed down : no more anxiety : and I made my decision to leave clerical ministry behind. I proposed to Anna that Christmas Eve, and she said "yes!" The rest is history.
Transfigurations and other such experiences are moments to enjoy and treasure; but they are not the stuff of everyday life. Jesus' disciples realized this so they followed Jesus back down the mountain to face the normal trials and challenges of life, as must we all. There is no shred of evidence that the three disciples ever spoke of their mountain-top moment..
Whatever we think of this Gospel, what is important is that we recognize Jesus when we see him. But do we? It's easy to spot a transfigured Jesus. Just ask Peter, James & John! But Jesus is a master of disguise. He may appear at the Family Promise door as a father with two little children, someone who lost his job, perhaps his wife and now his home as well. He may appear as an abused teenage girl in need of help because her parents threw her out of their home. He may appear elderly, lying alone in a hospital bed dying of cancer. Or he may be an immigrant living in Wisconsin, trying desperately to provide for his family on poverty wages.
Yes, Jesus is a master of disguise, and he uses disguises so well. How do we know? We know because Jesus himself told us! To quote Jesus: "I was sick and in prison and you never visited me. I was hungry and you never gave me food. I was cold and you never offered me shelter." We may object strongly, even angrily: "But Lord, when did we see you like that and never help you?" Jesus' response is immediate and powerful: "When you did not do this for the least of my people, you did not do this for me!" Jesus identifies himself entirely with the marginalized, the poor, the vulnerable. His disguise is perfect: "You did not do this for me!"
Do we recognize the many disguises Jesus uses? The bottom line is: When we dismiss people in need, we dismiss Jesus. When we embrace people in need, we embrace Jesus! This isn't rocket science. It's simple. It's basic Christian discipleship!