The three who went up the mountain with Jesus were fishermen. Peter, James, and John were experts at sitting in a boat, casting nets, hauling in fish, getting wet from the splashing nets, and bringing the fish to market. They were simple, common fishermen who were experts in their trade.
In the time of Jesus, like today, there were men, women and even children who excelled at a certain talent after days and years of practice. I remember thinking that after a couple months, I could have delivered my UPS route backwards with my eyes closed. A rather dangerous way to drive it is, sort of like the young person earlier this week who was about two feet from my back bumper on Interstate 290, as I’m watching their head go up and down several times as they undoubtedly texted or played with their phone. From the perspective of the vehicle in front of them, that’s a helpless feeling in that moment.
In a book I’m presently reading called Mary of Nazareth, and I’ve read this information elsewhere, the author explains how Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was considered an expert weaver. She was instructed by the priests in Jerusalem at a young age to help weave, along with 6 other women, the veil that would separate the Holy of Holies in the Temple from the rest of the outside world. The same veil, by the way, that would be torn in two the day her Son died on the Cross, reveling the emptiness of the physical Temple and the fullness of the new Temple of his body.
Many people at the time of Jesus possessed expert talent in areas they became familiar with over time. Although the three Apostles were expert fishermen, they were not expert hikers. Fishing and hiking require two separate skill sets. You don’t get wet when you go hiking, unless it starts to rain, or your crossing a stream, you slip on a wet rock and fall in. Been there and done that. And, when you’re fishing, the only time you will huff and puff like you just walked straight up a mountain for a quarter mile is when you have a net loaded with 153 large fish like that resurrection scene in John where Jesus showed up on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias and told them to cast the net to the other side of the boat after catching nothing all night.
Our readings on the 2nd Sunday of Lent challenge us in our faith lives to extend ourselves into unfamiliar territory. In areas where we are presently not experts, or fully comfortable, where actions are not 2nd nature, or where we cannot weave a veil by instinct. Anyone who has weaved for years can carry on a conversation like they’re not weaving when they are weaving. They will look you in the eye as they speak and weave.
I remember in seminary down in Baltimore, a city with many different ministry possibilities like any large city, it was strongly recommended that we attach ourselves to a ministry that was unfamiliar to us. Do you think Mother Teresa was comfortable the first time she crossed the boundary into Calcutta? I’m sure she was nervous, a bit anxious, but still full of confidence and trust that God was by her side.
It’s part of God’s sense of humor that Jesus was transfigured on a high mountain in the presence of three fishermen who were used to being at sea level. Why didn’t he transfigure before them in a boat on the Sea of Galilee? It would have much more comfortable for his three main Apostles. Our Lord’s purpose was not to make them uncomfortable and fearful. His purpose was, in this setting, to expand and stretch their minds and hearts to incorporate an event that will sustain their Apostleship when they begin to preach, teach, and live the Kingdom of God, something they are fully unfamiliar with. What happens in the transfiguration is a deepening of their trust, and our trust, I pray, that victory is assured, and whatever ministry we perform connected to our faith is made possible through the power of God.
In the 1st reading, God says to Abram, “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk, the land you are familiar with, to a land I will show you.” How much trust did that take on the part of Abram? Changing jobs is one thing. But changing lands is another. Changing territory is more unsettling. Today, that’s like God telling us to move to Australia, or the Far East. ‘I have a plan for your life,” he says, “but you have to move there first.” And how does this reading conclude? “Abram went as the Lord directed him.” No wonder why Abraham is the father of three major religions.
God isn’t saying to us, “Move to Australia. Move to Japan.” But the Lord is saying to all of us symbolically, “Move to Australia with your personal Christian gifts. Expand your horizons of love and compassion. Take your faith to a foreign land in our community, or beyond our community, and bring Christ to others in a way we have not done presently.” Which is asking much less of us than he did with Abram.
And if we have the courage to proceed to unfamiliar territory, what we will realize about our faith lived out in action is this, the words of St. Peter; “Lord, it is good that we are here.” It is good that three fishermen are on top of this mountain. We’ve never been up here before. We’ve never done this ministry before. We’ve seen this mountain from a distance when fishing in our boat. We’ve always wondered what it would be like hiking this mountain and looking out from its peak. Now we know. And it is good that we are here.” That’s the ministry that awaits each of us in some form.
It’s a Gospel of trusting that we can succeed at doing God’s work in unfamiliar territory. Territory that reflect the words of Jesus; “Rise, and do not be afraid.” There’s much new ministry that awaits our attention this Lent and beyond. Much in the ways of prayer fasting, and almsgiving.