Reflection for Quinquagesima Sunday
Luke 8;31-43 and Matthew 17;1-9
We sense today the sadness and uncertainty of many ordinary Christians who seem to be vaguely aware that their faith is marginalized and that almost everything is so human focused that a blindness exists about the deep Judeo/Christian tradition and collective wisdom upon which we once relied, resulting in a massive poverty in understanding the religious mind and a boredom with ideas about prayer and worship.
A century ago, T. E. Hulme observed, “we have been penetrated by our enemies.” This past month we have an example of this as the governing body of the Church of England has been attempting to gender neutralise “God the Father” saying it is offensive to modern people, most of whom already know nothing about the prayer that Jesus Christ, who called God “my Father,” graciously gave to his disciples. At the heart of our Christian faith is the search for union with God, called the doctrine of Deification. This has a long history and deep roots from earliest times, but has been forgotten or neglected in our day but as we see in the gospel passages will lead our journey in the weeks before Easter.
Reflecting on Jesus Christ in this human world, the fundamental question for us is, what is the meaning of my life and what does Jesus Christ bring to me? For many today the purpose of life is to attain the maximum happiness, health or wealth, frequently resulting in blindness to almost everything else. But St Peter gave another answer, it was “to become partakers of the divine nature [2 Peter 1:4]. That belief we call “deification” is repeated throughout the New Testament.
Entering the weeks of Lent, preparing for the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, we first face the issue of human blindness and misunderstanding afflicting us all, just as it had the apostles. In Luke’s gospel they are taken aside by Jesus to explain his going to Jerusalem, “those things written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. He will be delivered to the Gentiles, will be mocked and insulted, spat upon, scourged and killed; and the third day He will rise again. But they understood none of these things”. [Luke 18;31–43] Then immediately follows the miracle of a blind man whose faith opens his eyes, “he received his sight, and followed Jesus, glorifying God”. [Luke 18;43]
St Peter was well aware of this blindness that veiled the vision of those closest to the Lord, and wrote about it in his second letter. “Divine power to the life of goodness and knowledge of God’s glory has made possible the precious promise of being “partakers of the divine nature” [2 Peter 1–4]. This is probably the most important passage for Christians to grasp, together with the experience Peter and the others had on the mount of transfiguration. It was the key to everything the New Testament set out to reveal. Why had Jesus been born as a man, why his conflicts with authorities and his terrible death? What does it mean to be part of this, “one in him and he in us”? [John 17;20-21] Witnessing the divine glory of the Transfiguration was for the Apostles finally, a key after receiving the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, when their eyes were opened to what the Fathers called the experience of Deification.
Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration is the background [Matthew 17;1–9]. “Lord, it is good for us to be here” says Peter, but they are overwhelmed with fear and still blind to the meaning of the glory they had witnessed and the future glory they would only understand after the resurrection when their eyes were opened. It is the task of Christian spirituality to understand the doctrine of Deification and to live by it. In fact it is the main goal of the Christian life to live in union with the God who is the source and meaning of all creation. St Paul used this same language when writing to the Ephesians, “God has made known his purpose which he set forth to unite all things in Christ” [1:9-10].
Or again in the author of Hebrews, “we have become partakers of Christ if we hold confidence, steadfast to the end”.[3;14] This mystery of Union with God was a constant theme of the Apostles Peter, Paul and John and it became for the earliest centuries the essence of the Christian spiritual life. This search for union with God has a long history and deep roots from earliest times, but has been forgotten or neglected in our day and needs to be at the heart of these next weeks.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal