Friday, February 19, 2016

The Transfiguration and the Citizens of the Kingdom

There is a practical question one can raise today: why hold a religious belief…so what if we have or do not have a religious belief? St. Paul might want to answer that: “because our citizenship is in heaven” (see Ph3/20). I remember reading from Timothy Radcliff O.P., former General of the Dominicans, and there he used the term “citizens of the Kingdom”.
God engaged Abraham to obtain many descendants and a land, a territory. It was to be prosperity within limited resources. As the story goes, Abraham agreed to go take the risk. The risk was to adjust himself to requirements of God that, at that point, may have still seemed strange. Abraham had faith and God saw that faith as “just” (see Gen.15/6). 
In the Gospel we read that Jesus transfigured. He was with two others, namely, Moses and Elijah. In other words Jesus continued the mission action of the two. This time Jesus was to offer a definite covenant—a definite link with the Lord God.
We can check this and see if, in any way, we can return a bit more to the faith. Through me readings and conversations with some people there is a recurrent question raised: why have faith when we can be ok without it? I understand that we are in a post-modern and post-religion era. Ok, but let me see if the Transfiguration can have something to say too.
The Transfiguration says that in spite of the hard realities of daily life we can try and see life a bit differently—even from time to time. This must have been the experience of Peter, John and James (in Lk 9/28). In spite of the struggles of daily life BELONGING TO JESUS can still help “transfigure” our own lives. The story goes to tell us that the face of Jesus was completely…well, different. It shown bright…
For the Christian this signals joy. Even the clothes of Jesus shown bright. The Son of the Father has become more than what the disciples—the three—expected. They saw the same glory of the Father. So Peter himself rejoiced, “How happy we are to be here” (see Lk9/33). He was filled with joy. May the same joy find its resonance in the silence (and noise) of daily life. Remember that this story of the Transfiguration took place before the Resurrection. Hence the three disciples “kept silent” (see Lk9/36).
In the Christian faith the Resurrection signals that from here on one is a “citizen of the Kingdom”. There is something beyond…beyond the grind of daily life, for example. The presence of Jesus within history has freed us from a perspective of despair and total destruction. No, we are not destined for darkness. Hence St. Paul himself declared: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (Phil3/20-21).
In this point of view we already are citizens even now—citizens of this fraternity with God. In the culture of St. Paul it was not so much the possession that counted most—it was rather the “belonging to a group”…a family, a clan, etc. St. Paul saw that the transformation lived by Jesus was to benefit his disciples and followers. The benefit was already actual in the citizenship in heaven while undergoing the daily grind of daily life. If this perspective is accepted then human adventure will take a new turn.
If we talk of citizenship we might look at the refugees from the Syrian conflict…or migrants to European countries…or Filipinos migrating to new lands. We can also think of well…people left behind, especially the poor, marginalized, those who cannot even step out of their neighborhood without feeling the pain of spending money. We can think of the workers in precarious conditions…many of whom have a contractual status. What is the “quality” of citizenship?

In reading the Social Doctrine we can be led to say, for example, that with our citizenship here we also belong to the Kingdom started, symbolically, with the Covenant with Abraham. This opens up—or transfigures—in us a sense of solidarity with the marginalized. Well, someone once told me that this is but a dream…a wishful thinking. Ok…but at least let me talk about it. Or at least, hopefully the Transfiguration can provoke the question of how far are we, ourselves, transfigured with Jesus…transformed in such a way that what we do now is compatible with our citizenship in heaven. 

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