Last night the Academy Awards were handed out. A celebration of fantasy and illusion. Hollywood, marked by acting and special effects, is anything but real. Indeed, it is an escape from the real. Therein lies its attraction. Daily life is experienced by many as drudgery, a painful hardship, and watching a good movie can for a time take our minds off of the reality of the everyday.
When, as recounted by yesterday's Gospel passage (Luke 9:28-36), Jesus takes his three chosen disciples to the top of the mountain to witness his transfiguration, he leads them away momentarily from life at the mountain's foot, away from the everyday encounter with poverty, sickness, despair and other forms of human hardship. But the trek up the mountain is not an escape into falsehood or illusion. It is a journey to what is true. In his transfiguration Jesus reveals his true identity, which shines forth and is confirmed by nothing less than the voice of the Heavenly Father: "This is my Son, my Chosen!" The point of the event is to strengthen the disciples for what they will encounter when they go back down the mountain - not only the normal daily challenges but also the scandal of the Cross! Jesus offered them in advance a glimpse of the glory he would have in fullness following his suffering and death, in order to sustain them as they witnessed his agony.
We who also live our lives at the foot of the mountain can draw comfort and strength from what all of this teaches about God and his love for us. God draws near to his people, directing them and all of history in accordance with his plan of love. Nothing is outside his concern. Many times in the Old Testament God's revelation occurred on a mountaintop, it is true, but his saving action also happened on the plain - God with his people in their need. After the transfiguration, the disciples came down the mountain, back to daily life. But so did Jesus! He, the Son of God, comes to us in the lives we live at the foot of the mountain. He enters into our daily reality with his love and his mercy. So when things are difficult we don't need to escape into illusion, into distractions. Rather we are called to turn to the real, the truth that the Lord is with us. This is what strengthens us and gives us hope.