The Power of the Dazzle — Luke 9:28-36 and Acts 9
Jesus, at prayer in Luke 9:18, signals the beginning of a significant new development in the Gospel. He asks his disciples the big question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Because their responses are inadequate Jesus asks: “But who do you say I am?” Peter gets it right: “The Messiah of God.”
But saying Jesus is the Messiah is not enough. The disciples need to understand the kind of Messiah he is. And Jesus explains: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22). Jesus has already wrestled with this paradox during his temptation (Lk 4:1-13). Now it is the disciples' turn to engage with this unexpected promise.
Where Will Following Jesus Lead?
A mysterious scene, which we know as the transfiguration, follows (Lk 9:28-36). In the scene Jesus is praying when “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white”.
The word “dazzling” is the same word used in Acts 9:3 to portray the light that Paul enters on his way to Damascus. Paul is experiencing the reflection of the transfigured Jesus. He, too, is transformed into a disciple.
Paul's Three Attitudes
In The Gospel According to St Paul Cardinal Carlo Martini describes the fruits of Paul’s transformation as three inner attitudes and two ways of action.
Joy and Peace
The first attitude is Paul’s inner joy and peace: “I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed” (2 Cor 7:4). His joy is real: “[We] have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor 4:7). He continues: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed . . . struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:8-11). Paul’s joy deals with burdens, difficulties and the ups and downs of daily life. He realises that something much stronger is rising in him.
The second inner attitude is Paul’s capacity for gratitude. He urges people to thank God with joy (Col 1:11-12). All his letters begin with a prayer of thanksgiving (except Galatians which is a letter of correction). The First Letter to the Thessalonians, probably the first written document of the New Testament, begins with: “Grace and peace. We give thanks to God always for you” (1 Thes 1:1-2). Even when reproving Paul is not bitter. Through God’s gift of transfiguration, he has the ability to see the good first. He affirms what is positive in each community he addresses, before he writes about what needs attention.
His third inner attitude is praise. Paul draws on the Jewish tradition of blessing to embrace everything that concerns the life of the community in Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3).
Paul's Two Modes of Action
Martini says that Paul’s trans-formation shows his never-ending capacity to bounce back. He begins preaching in Damascus but then has to flee. Again, he preaches in Jerusalem and is made to leave. This treatment becomes a pattern of his life (eg, Acts 14:19:21). Paul’s transfiguration continues through the power of the Risen One who enters into his weakness and lives in him as strength.
Freedom of Spirit
His second way of acting is characterised by a freedom in the spirit. Paul acts from his inner freedom unworried by pressure to conform to what is not of the Gospel. Writing to the Galatians about Jewish Christians in Jerusalem demanding that the Gentile Titus be circumcised, Paul says: “We did not submit to them even for a moment, that the truth of the Gospel might always remain with you” (Gal 2:5). He called Peter to account for bowing to the circumcision faction and no longer eating with the Gentile Christians (Gal 2:11-14). Paul’s sense of freedom comes from his sense of belonging totally to Christ.
Being Open to Transfiguration
We can lose our capacity for appreciating the extraordinary in our lives and be ground down by life — poverty, burnout, legalism, worry, judging others or unhappiness. Yet we’ve probably all had experiences or stories of being transfigured by a “dazzling” moment. I remember when my father was dying that I felt completely overcome, as if I could no longer cope. I looked out of the hospital window and saw a rainbow stretching across the sky. It was vivid and beautiful and seemed to gather me into it. As I watched I felt reassured — gently strengthened and transformed. And it remained with me.
We have the capacity to be surprised and transformed by a “dazzling” light — whether it is a rainbow, an insight, an experience, a word or a gesture. The dazzling moment can be a seemingly ordinary occasion: the sleep-deprived mother who inspires us to lend a hand; the lonely person who we see needs visiting; the tense situation that urges us to intervene with kindness rather than the expected censure; the mourning of the bereaved which encourages us to mourn alongside and comfort.
We may have been “dazzled” by the generosity of Aotearoa New Zealand families helping the people of Tonga — and transformed through our own sense of relationship and willingness to contribute increase also.
Sometimes we experience the dazzling light of realising we are part of creation — the thrill of hearing a bird call in the bush; the awe of a landscape, a seascape, the night sky; the exhilaration of catching the perfect wave; a sudden experience of being one with everything.
These are moments, but trans-formation is ongoing. As with Paul and the disciples, we seek to nurture and grow in awareness these moments and experiences of newfound peace and joy— what we might call our Christ core.
We grow in our capacity for gratitude and show our gratitude by affirming others and acknowledging the influence for good they have on us. We are being transfigured into Christ. By facing our fears, our reality and the truth we can grow in resilience. And by reflecting on the Gospel, by ourselves and with others, and allowing it to percolate into us, we can grow in freedom of spirit.
Tui Motu Magazine. Issue 268 March 2022: 24-25