Children ‘show forth’ their parents in many different ways. The child who swears like a trooper clearly proclaims the kind of language it hears at home; the child who speaks with courtesy and respect bears witness to another kind of upbringing. Examples could be multiplied infinitely and all would testify to the principle that, wittingly or unwittingly, children disclose to the world the quality of their parents.
Naturally enough, good parents will require of their children that they behave well and not bring disgrace to the family. God especially requires this. In last Monday’s Mass we heard God say to Moses: Speak to the whole community of the sons of Israel and say to them: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” As God’s children we must not disgrace our heavenly Father through our conduct.
Of course Jesus is the best example of a faithful Son of his Father and revealed him to the world with impeccable faithfulness. Jesus did only the works his Father gave him to do and spoke only the words his Father wanted him to speak; he was truly a ‘revelation’ of the Father.
We too are called to manifest God to the world through our lives. To put it in a simple (and limited) analogy, we should be like shop windows displaying God. Of the man born blind Jesus said: he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Moses was asked at one time to ‘speak’ to the rock to give water at Meribah and instead he ‘struck’ the rock. God was angry with Moses and declared he would never enter the Promised Land because of this transgression. What had he done that was so seriously wrong? Was it just his disobedience? God himself said, it was: because you did not display my holiness among the sons of Israel.
It is by obeying God’s word fully that we show our respect and ‘fear’ of God; we then show him forth as he really is. This is a little understood truth in contemporary society which sees God almost exclusively in terms of its own thinking. For all too many God is always ‘nice’, never punishes, and accepts even the worst of us into the Kingdom without question. In the Church, too, there is no shortage of individuals ready to preach a God of their own making.
We do well to remember simple incidents such as when Uzzah stretched out his hand to steady the ark as it was being brought into Jerusalem; the oxen were upsetting it. The Lord, who had said that no one was to touch the ark, became angry with Uzzah and struck him; he died there in God's presence, because he had laid his hand on the ark (cf. 1Chron 13:9).
The prohibition against touching the ark was to show forth the holiness of God who had plainly stated no one must do so. Even King David was taken aback by the Lord’s anger but he grew in humble fear of the Lord.
Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus doing all in complete conformity to the Father’s will. As he stands in dazzling whiteness on the mountain between Moses and Elijah he offers us a concrete image of this obedient love. It is the Father’s plan, the Father’s will, the Father’s love which Jesus shows forth so majestically. Indeed, only of Jesus could the Father ever say with perfect truth and confidence: This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.
And so finally we come to Abraham reaching out for the knife fully intending to sacrifice his son, his only begotten, beloved son. Isaac lies on the altar fully expecting to receive the blade into his heart. Both men are fully obedient to the holy will of God. What an awesome scene, what a fearful scene! This is not the God of the liberals, this is not the God of Nice, this is not the God who permits anything and approves of everything; this is the awesome God of the Hebrews who requires our free acceptance of his Lordship.
Nevertheless, having seen the loving submission of Abraham and Isaac to his divine will I can well imagine God the Father coming down to stand beside Abraham and to proclaim proudly to all people of all time: ‘See this man, see how he displays my holiness? He is acting out most faithfully and fully what I myself will do for my people when I offer my own only-begotten Son Jesus. He is doing for me what I will do for all of you. He is wholeheartedly and lovingly prepared to sacrifice his son in honour of my greatness.’
And I can imagine the Second Person of the Trinity coming to stand proudly beside Isaac and saying: ‘Do you see this wonderful lad, innocent, pure, obedient to his father? Do you see how he displays my greatness by offering himself to God as I will one day offer myself?’
I wonder if at that moment, with knife poised to strike, Abraham and Isaac were transfigured, so that their clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them? Certainly they were showing forth the holiness of God in a awe-inspiring moment of complete surrender to God.
We, too, every one of us, young or old, rich or poor, healthy or sick are called, in our own lives, to manifest the holiness of God. This is why, just for starters, it is essential that we obey him. Obedience, even when one’s heart is cold, is already a great sign of love, very pleasing to God.
When Peter, James and John saw the transfigured Jesus they saw something of the glory of God; may others see the same in us.