With the times that we are living in there is a lot of talk about different religions like Islam and Judaism. I suppose this has been highlighted with all the terrorism that is going on and sadly people are often given the impression that religions like Islam are ‘dangerous’ because of these extremists, but that is not necessarily true. With every religion you will get extremists who will do crazy things and then give everyone else who is trying to live it, a bad name. It has happened in Christianity too. It only takes a small group of extremists to do a lot of damage. There is no doubt that God speaks to people through many different religions, but that also brings up the question, is Christianity just ‘another’ religion and does it really make any difference? Aren’t they all the same? We don’t believe that all religions are the same.
So what makes Christianity any different? Put simply, the person of Jesus. Either Jesus was who he said he was, or he was a liar, or he was mad man. As we know, his whole life pointed to the fact that he was who he said he was and perhaps this event that we remember today, the transfiguration, points to that more than anything else.
Jesus took with him his three closest men, Peter, James and John. These three were also the ones he took with him when he brought the 12 year old girl, Jairus’ daughter, back to life and they were also with him in the garden of Gethsemane. For some reason he allowed them to see more than the others saw. So they had this vision of Jesus in his glory, which completely terrified them. Everything they saw in the vision had a meaning. Moses and Elijah represented two things. The Ten Commandments were given to Moses and Elijah was considered the greatest of the prophets, so he represented all that the prophets taught the people. For the Jewish people, following the teachings of the Law and the Prophets was their path to heaven. So for Moses and Elijah to appear with Jesus was saying that Jesus was now the path to heaven. He is more important than anything that came before him. He is fulfilling everything. Jesus is everything, fulfils everything, teaches us everything about God, not only by what he said, but also by everything that he did, above all his total self-sacrifice for us. That tells us that God loves us so much that He will give everything for us. If that is true then what is there that we could ever be afraid of?
Wouldn’t you wonder why didn’t Jesus let the other Apostles see it too? And why did he forbid them to talk about it until he had ‘risen from the dead’, which they didn’t understand either? You would imagine that it would have been more helpful if he allowed all of his disciples to see this vision, as it would have strengthened their faith, but he didn’t.
What Jesus was doing was giving them a tiny glimpse of who he really was/is, so that they wouldn’t completely lose hope during his passion, which was to happen shortly after this event. Peter, James and John would need this more than the others, as they would be involved in it more than the others; in the garden of Gethsemane he kept them close enough to him so that they could see what was happening, and watch him almost going mad with fear of what was about to happen to him. It must have been very frightening to watch this.
What has this got to do with us today? Jesus didn’t make it that obvious who he was back then, even to his disciples. They also had to struggle with their faith. We have to struggle with our faith too. Wouldn’t it be much easier if Jesus appeared to us? Then we would have no doubts! But he doesn’t, and he didn’t with them either until much later, because they too had to grow, slowly and painfully in their faith.
The Lord keeps himself hidden from us quite deliberately. He gives us complete freedom to discover him, to believe in him, or not. He wants us to be completely free and everyone struggles to believe. It is part of the journey of faith. Sometimes if we need a little extra help, he gives it to us, but for the most part we seem to be left in the dark. Most of the people at that time were too, but they wrote about what they saw and heard.
In the second reading St. Peter is talking about this event and he says, ‘We were there on the mountain and we saw the vision and heard the voice ourselves’. He is saying, ‘This really happened. We saw it!’ And he writes this to help us to believe. So yes we struggle to believe, but yes, we are meant to struggle, because it is part of the journey of faith.
So is there any difference between Christianity and other religions? Yes! Jesus is the difference. Put in the simplest terms: we try to live this way of life because this is how God made himself known to us through the person of Jesus Christ. This is the path He invites us to follow by listening to his teaching and trying to live as he lived. He also speaks to other peoples of different faiths, but this is what He has made known to us and we believe it is true and so we try to follow this path while at the same time remembering that God also speaks to people of other religions, but in a different way. Remember the words that the three Apostles heard on the mountain: ‘This is my Son the beloved. Listen to him.’ For us, Jesus is everything.