Saturday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time
As we read the gospel of Mark, we might catch ourselves wondering about the Apostles. They never seem to get it! No matter what they see Jesus do – healing after healing, miracle after miracle – they end up asking the same question: “Who is this?”
Although Mark probably intended us to wonder, and for good reason, we shouldn’t take it too far. We have the benefit of hindsight, not to mention an evangelist who tells us everything we need to know in his first line: the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). The Apostles had to figure it out as it was happening. They did have some success; Mark tells us that Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah (8:29). However, he also says that they didn’t understand the cross (8:32; 9:32; 10:35ff). That’s probably because they pictured the Messiah as the son of David, not the Son of God; a conquering king, not a suffering servant; someone who would free them from emperors and tyrants, not from sin and death.
So, the question really isn’t why the Apostles never got it. They did, as Mark well knew, especially if his gospel came from Peter himself. The question is what moved a man like Peter to go from a terrified disciple asking if he should set up tents on a mountain to a faithful shepherd of the Church who, nearing his martyrdom, wrote with such conviction of that same unforgettable, mystical experience (2 Peter 1:16-18).
I think the answer lies in the gifts given to him by the Holy Spirit, particularly the gift of understanding. It has been called a “penetrating” or “permanent” intuition of divine truth,1 and it certainly was for St. Peter; who could intuit any truth greater than Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life? Indeed, given his experience – seeing Moses, Elijah, and the glorified Christ, and hearing the voice of the Father – Peter must have devoted many hours to contemplating what the Transfiguration of our Lord meant for him and for the Church.
So should we, for the gift of understanding is given to us, too. It works in many ways. First, it helps us find the hidden meanings of Scripture. Certainly it was used by the Apostles and Fathers of the Church as they read and discovered the many Old Testament references to Christ. The pages of our bibles have much of the fruits of their labor. I urge you to find the notes and footnotes for today’s gospel passage (two are Exodus and 1 Kings) and see how they inform and enrich your understanding of the Transfiguration. Second, the gift of understanding helps us see the relationships between symbols and what they point to. One example is the cloud that surrounded the Apostles on the mountain; that is a symbol of the Lord’s presence, just as it was in the time of Moses. Third, the gift of understanding shows us how God works in our own lives. Think of your own “mountaintop” experiences or consolations; the times during Mass or other prayer when you felt especially close to God, or moved by his presence and power. Finally, the gift of understanding strengthens our appreciation for the Sacraments. For example, when the bread and wine are consecrated, we are led to a deeper, more profound awareness of Jesus Christ, most truly present. It is as St. Thomas Aquinas once said: “When the eye of the spirit is purified by the gift of understanding, one can in a certain way see God.”
Let us pray today and every day for an increase in the gift of understanding, that we may more and more clearly see the face of God in Scripture, the Church, the Sacraments, and perhaps most especially in our own lives.
1 Aumann, Fr. Jordan, OP. The Gift of Understanding. Available online at http://www.domcentral.org/study/aumann/st/st10.htm#tgou.
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