As a priest I often interview candidates who want to teach in our Catholic schools in order to write them a letter of reference. One of the duties of teachers is to teach religious education. Hence, I always like to ask a few questions about our Catholic faith to see whether they are prepared to teach our children. The first question I ask is, “What do we believe about Jesus?” This would seem pretty straightforward, but many struggle, answering it hesitantly or in a convoluted manner. This includes individuals who attend Mass regularly, have taken extra courses in religious studies, and have even volunteered teaching catechism to children. I know being asked a question like this by a priest is a little intimidating. Knowing your job depends on the answer you give is a little scary. But a lot more depends on this answer than a job – our whole lives depend upon the answer – our eternal salvation depends upon the answer. So this is not a question just for teacher candidates – it is a question we must all be able to answer. “Who is Jesus?”
Some may respond, “Father I know the answer, but you put me on the spot.” Life will put us on the spot many times – if you think it is hard explaining Christ to a priest, what about your Muslim neighbour, the Mormon missionary who knocks at your door, or your adult child who is thinking of leaving the Church. Each of us is called to defend and spread our faith – how are people going to believe in Jesus, if devout Christians are unable to speak clearly and confidently about Him?
“Who is Jesus?” Again, let me be fair. People tell me a lot about Jesus – they tell me what He said – to forgive our enemies, to love our neighbour as ourselves. They tell me what He did – that He died on the cross to save us from sin, that He rose from the dead. But rarely can they tell me who He is. Who is Jesus? “Jesus is God.”
Jesus is not a nice guy with a big heart. He is not a wise man with good advice on how to live your life. Jesus is God himself, who became one of us – to show us who God is and who we are.
Jesus is God. This is the mystery revealed to Peter, James and John in our Gospel today. Once they reach the top of the mountain, they see Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus surrounded by a large cloud and a bright light. They would have remembered that Moses went up Mount Sinai, was surrounded by a bright cloud, heard God’s voice and received the law from the hand of God Himself. Elijah too climbed a mountain and God passed by him. Here James, Peter and John discover that Jesus was the One Moses and Elijah encountered on the mountain. Here the Father announces Jesus’ true identity “This is my Son, the beloved….listen to Him.”
Jesus is God. And this changes everything. It means His teaching is unique – it is not merely that of a wise man or prophet who tries to help his peers come closer to God – God trying to come closer to us. Jesus does not just tell us what God wants us to do – He shows us who God is. Jesus says “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” And this says something important. God does not merely want our obedience or our worship, He wants us to know Him, He wants us to have a relationship with Him, He wants us to call Him “Father.”
Jesus shows us who God is – our Father. He also shows us who we are – His children. We are told that we are created in the “image and likeness of God” – the Fathers of the Church interpreted this more specifically to mean we are created in the “image and likeness of Jesus.” Jesus is the blueprint by which God created humanity – by turning to Him we discover who we are and the “holy calling” St. Paul speaks of in our second reading. This calling is to be children of God – transformed into the image of Jesus, His Son. We know this image has been distorted and tarnished by our sins, but it is restored through the sacraments of the Church.
This is the mystery of the Transfiguration – Jesus, God, became one of us and shared in our human nature, so that we could become more like Him and share in His divine nature. On the mountain, Jesus revealed His glory to Peter, James and John – but this was a glory He wishes to share with each of us. Each of us is called to become more and more like Jesus Christ. During this season of Lent let us compare our lives not with one another, but with Jesus who is our model, our blue print. Let us receive the sacraments more frequently and with better disposition, so that we can become like Him, our God, in whose image we were created.