The Sunday Project
We are Beloved of God
Second Sunday of Lent |
By Paul Taouk
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli'jah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah." He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead."
I love the story of the Transfiguration. It always struck me as a story of power – Jesus shown in splendid glory. However, as I read and reflect on the Scripture text now during Lent, I see something quite different. Here is a story of self-revelation and the vulnerability that comes along with it. During Lent what does the Transfiguration say to us about discipleship? And what does it say to us as queer Catholics taught to see ourselves as abhorrent? For me, it’s a story of liberation. I find myself focusing on three aspects of the story: Jesus’ self-revelation, the presence of Moses and Elijah and God’s announcement “This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased…”.
Jesus leads Peter, James and John up the mountain and there he reveals himself, his face “shone like the sun” and his cloths were “dazzling white”. We can only imagine what the disciples saw as Jesus gives them a glimpse of his true self, his authentic self. Jesus’ action was a profound statement of intimacy; his love and friendship with these three disciples must have been deep. I must confess I rarely open up to such a degree to let others in, it is a challenge to be authentic with others. I suspect this is some of the damage of homophobia in my life.
As Jesus is shining bright, Moses and Elijah appear and speak to him. Moses and Elijah are giant figures in this great story that is the bible. Moses is the law-giver and the great liberator. Through Moses, God is revealed as the liberator who leads Israel out of slavery and into freedom. Elijah is the great prophet, reminding us of our call to covenant, to grow in our relationship with God. In one of my favourite stories Elijah has an encounter with God on a mountain where God is revealed in the “sheer silence”, such is the gentleness of God. Moses and Elijah represent, for me, the God of liberation and gentleness inviting me into relationship, freely and quietly. And a relationship invites us, maybe even demands us, to reveal our true selves, let the other in. Here I am warts and all.
Then we have those magnificent and powerful words as the cloud descends on them all, “This is my son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” The same is true for you and I. The statement, if believed, is transformative. What would the world be like if we all knew with all our hearts, and believed, that we are beloved of God. Spend some time reflecting on these words, as if God is talking about you; I suspect the reality of this statement is a challenge for any of us to fully comprehend and believe. It is God’s radical love. “I am a beloved son/daughter of God.” It is a liberating truth! As a baptised person I can say with all truth “I am beloved of God”. Unfortunately, we don’t quite believe it. To be like Christ is to fully believe it. I suspect it will be a lifelong process, for me, to come to believe fully that I am loved by God and allow this truth to transform me, my relationship with God and my relationship with others.
Jesus knew with all his being that he was the beloved son in whom God was pleased. I believe it was this belief that empowered Jesus to teach with authority, heal others and show God’s radical love through his life and eventually his crucifixion. We need that level of commitment from Jesus and yet we are still not convinced. Can God really love me?
As disciples we are invited to ponder this truth. It’s a truth that LGBTQ Catholics in particular were/are denied. It angers me, I must admit, that we received the message that we were misfits, abhorrent, hated by God by the very institution that is commissioned to teach us that we are radically and unconditionally loved by God. But truth prevails.
So, as I read the story of the transfiguration this Lent, I’m reminded of God’s invitation, and for many of us a challenging invitation, to take off our masks one at a time and reveal who we are to ourselves, before a God who loves us, and to others. The task of self-revelation (coming out if you will) can often be a slow and painful process of healing. It is a process of encountering Christ in the very place I was told I couldn’t find Him; in myself. I have come to know, ever so partially, that I am a beloved son of God. I am on that mountain with Peter, James and John, and with Moses and Elijah, and as I see Jesus transfigure before me, he holds up a mirror reminding me that I am also a beloved son of God.
I guess for many of us who are LGBT Catholic this self-revelation can be equated with our coming out. We travel up the mountain to our own transfiguration. Each story is unique and can often be a long process. Self-revelation, or coming out, is a collection of stories often spanning years, full of events and conversations, one step at a time as we peel the masks off. Some masks come off easily and others are painful paschal experiences of death and resurrection. But as I take off each mask, I reveal more of what is Christ-like within me and move more deeply into intimate relationship with God, myself and others. I allow God to be in control and to transform me. This is not done alone and we need the support of community. Who are the people I invite up the mountain with me? Who are the people I can truly be myself with?
My hope is that all LGBTQ people who have felt, even for a short time, less than the other, can come to see themselves fully as beloved of God. But this needs community, we can only go so far alone. One person’s willingness to be vulnerable and take off a mask inspires another to do the same. My liberation is your liberation; and yours is mine. Healthy communities, healthy Church ministry, celebrates this truth of being loved by God and encourages LGBTQ Catholics to share their story. This will be liberating for the whole Church.
As baptised Catholics we are called to minister to a Church struggling with the LGBTQ story. Our presence is a gift to the Church. We remind the Church of the God who liberated Israel from slavery as we share how God liberates us from homophobia and self-loathing. We remind the Church that like Elijah, we encounter God in the sheer silence, and God calls us into the light and invites us into relationship, whatever that may look like for each of us. We remind the Church that we are beloved sons and daughters of God, who is well pleased with us. In short, we are called to be prophets.
So, as I read the story of the transfiguration of Jesus, I am reading my own transfiguration story and yours. In the face of challenge and rejection, God calls me to reflect the light of Christ as a beloved gay son of God and I believe God is pleased with me and my efforts to respond.