In 1994, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo showed a frail little Sudanese girl crouched, head bowed, struggling to make her way to a feeding centre with a large vulture behind her, ready to claim her body when she died, writes Rev Peter Ingham, the Bishop of Wollongong.
The photographer had waited some 20 minutes to catch the photo, after which he chased the vulture away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle on her own.
Appearing first in the New York Times, the photo caused controversy. The photographer was castigated for being so absorbed in his work that he didn’t think to reach out and to help the little girl in such real trouble. Two months after the Prize was awarded, the photographer suicided.
This tragic story can be a parable about the Transfiguration. Can’t we all get so caught up in our work, our sporting or recreational life, or positioning ourselves for advancement, that we can become blind to the needs of people around us.
We overlook the everyday opportunities to interrupt whatever we are doing to pay attention to our spouse, hug our kids, assist our friends, and welcome a stranger. Such insights or transfigurations don’t impact because we are so focussed on what we are about that, like Peter, James and John, we are not alert enough to catch a glimpse of the Glory of God being revealed to us! Opportunities lost!
Lent wants us to be alert. To what do you and I give priority? Are we missing some transfiguring (aha) moments, when the penny drops, and we have a truly revealing moment, an important insight about our life, about our destiny, about how we should act.
The Gospel of the Transfiguration celebrates what Peter, James and John saw on the mountain. St Peter never forgot the Transfiguration of Jesus in all his glory as the Son of God. Years later he referred to it in his second letter:
“We had seen his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God, the Father, when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour.” We heard this ourselves, spoken from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)
Why didn’t the Apostles tumble earlier to Jesus being the Son of God? St Luke says, “Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep but they kept awake and they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” (Lk 9:32-33)
So they were not fully awake. This can be a good image of why we often miss the transfiguring glory of God – our minds are in slumber mode!
The slumber of prejudice can cause us to be so set in our ideas that our minds are shut like a steel trap and nothing objective can get in.
Or our minds can be so overloaded from the incessant assault of images, commercials and chatter through modern technology, that we can live in constant distraction with our perceptions dulled, insensitive to the deeper realities of life.
When do we ever go apart, or take some solitude so we can reflect on our experiences in life? Then we won’t be so unalert to the people around us, indifferent to their struggles, their joys, their needs.
One “aha” transfiguring moment for me was when I visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I was so overawed at this natural wonder that I spontaneously said “How Great Thou Art!” St Paul wrote, “Ever since God created the world, his everlasting power and Deity however invisible, have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made.” (Rom 1:20)
In the Old Testament, we read: “Naturally stupid are all who have not known God and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him who is, or by studying the works, have failed to recognise the Artificer.” (Wis 13:1)
Another transfiguring “aha” moment for me was when my dear mum was dying. It hit me so clearly that this was the really critical and transfiguring time of her life as she was about to go through the gates of death to the fullness of life with God. Aided by my faith and her goodness, I saw life in its true perspective as a journey with the Lord whom, at death, we meet as a familiar friend whom we have cultivated our whole life through, not as a severe, remote or frightening judge!
The Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent focuses us on the humanity of Jesus as he is tempted in the wilderness, whereas the Gospel of the Second Lenten Sunday reveals the Divinity of Jesus. I think St Paul summed it up very well when he said “if we share in Christ’s sufferings, we will also share in his glory.” (Rom 8:17)
Peter W Ingham DD is the Bishop of Wollongong