You’ve probably heard the phrase “leaning on God’s strength.” It’s something I aspired to for many years, though for a long time the reality of it eluded me. I wanted to lean on God, but the truth is I was far too caught up in my own efforts. I tried leaning on him by striving. I tried leaning on him by sacrificing. I tried leaning on him by struggling, but the one thing I failed to do was actually lean. I made it all about me, when all I needed was him.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. At Mass, we heard the reading from Matthew’s Gospel, of how Jesus took Peter and James and John and climbed a mountain. There on the summit, these three disciples got an eyeful of glory, and as usual, Peter’s response was to inject himself right into the center of it.
You’ve got to love Peter. He means well. He’s always coming up with great suggestions for God. “Nobody’s going to kill you, Jesus! Not on my watch.” (To which Christ replied, “Get behind me Satan.”) Or that time he asked God to call him out on the water, and then promptly started to sink?
Today on the top of the mountain, seeing the transfigured Jesus with Moses on one side and Elijah on the other (can you imagine??), Peter characteristically decides to butt in. This time, he suggests making tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. “Lord,” he says, “it is good we are here!” But in Peter’s economy, the goodness of this picture lies entirely in what he believes he can do for God.
Oh, how many times I’ve been Peter! Striving to show God what I’m worth, thrusting myself in the midst of his wonder working to share with him my latest brilliant idea of how I can make things even better.
In the gospel, we are told that
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
Talk about being put in your place. But the real kicker comes after.
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
For me, this final line is the heart of the gospel account. They saw no one else but Jesus alone. All those times I tried to take God’s lessons into my own hands, all those times I tried to hurry his timing with my latest idea of how things could be better, all those times I tried to answer my own questions rather than listening, really listening to God’s beloved son, I was missing the glorious reality right in front of me: Jesus, no one else but Jesus alone.
I tend to think God looks kindly on my strivings, as a loving father, an attentive brother, just as he must have done with Peter. But sometimes, it’s time to break out the bright clouds and cast a shadow over the proceedings. Sometimes, he needs to stop me in my tracks and call out loud and clear, “Listen! Listen to him.”
Sometimes, I just need to fall prostrate and wait for Jesus to tell me, “Rise.” And when I rise, my sight restored, my priorities reordered, I always find him standing there: no one else but Jesus.