Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Traveling south on I 465 around Indianapolis one comes face to face with a ginormous billboard that asks: ‘Who is Jesus?’ For me, the question interrupts a flow of consciousness—call it “utilitarian consciousness”—related to the objects on which my gaze (restlessly) rests—mostly corporate logos for hotel chains, personal injury lawyers, and the occasional public health message “1 out of 5 American children suffers from…”
I must admit to being a little shocked and embarrassed when I came across this particular billboard, somehow not apropos in the environment. Do you REALLY need to ask THAT here, now? I’m not ready to talk about this. Tell me how many minutes, with current traffic, it’s going to take me to get to Exit 2A please!
The disconnect between my utilitarian consciousness and the question of Jesus’ identity is palpable. In the “zone” of my drive to work, all things around me are primarily means to an end. None of them elicit my attention as things worthwhile in themselves. A bit of negligence and misunderstanding between me and another driver leads to middle fingers raised on both sides. (Didn’t I pray this morning that my encounters with others would embody Christ’s love?)
Yes, there are worthwhile ends—my students, our class, for which I am trying arrive punctually and prepared—to which this drive leads. But utility also names a way of life in which we take part. This is our “everyday” within which the question about Jesus’ identity seems to have no part. Where is Jesus? Somewhere in my memory?
The author of 1 Peter encourages his community to remember. In this, he is in line with the Israelite’s most important activities…remembering the Passover, the Sabbath. God has given them cleansing of their sins and faith. Now he exhorts them to pursue godly living—self control, endurance, and, most of all, love. “For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.”
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Pet 2:16)
The transfiguration comes in Matthew in the context of the disciples’ struggle to identify Jesus—to answer his question, “Who do you say that I am?” In his attempt to answer, we have just seen Peter fall from top student to someone completely ignorant of the divine plan. How do we remember well?
Hans Frei, in his exploration of Jesus’ identity in the gospels, describes the nature of myths: “Myths are stories in which character and action are not irreducibly themselves. Instead they are representative of broader and not directly representable psychic or cosmic states, states in some sense ‘transcending’ the scene of finite, particular occurrences.”
But the gospel accounts, which for Frei are the paradigm sources of Jesus’ identity are importantly unlike myths of a dying and rising savior that abound in ancient times. “The story told in the Gospels…is distinguished by its urgent insistence that the story of salvation is completely and exclusively that of the savior Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus is a someone–God made particular for us. He is the one Peter walked with, saw transfigured with his eyes, and who received the honor and glory of God the father through the voice Peter heard with his ears. (2 Pet 2:17-18) Our everyday lives are therefore quite relevant for identifying him.
On my drive to work, Peter’s words remind me that, to remember Jesus in the everyday, I must learn to attend to others as “ends” rather than mere means. To have self-control, as I failed to do when I was cut off, prepares the soul for remembering its Lord.
You will do well to be attentive to this as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart. (2 Pet 2:19)
No easy task in a society that constantly disciplines us to see everything as useful for one’s own projects.