For some reason, the story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” came to mind when I was preparing something to say for this evening. It was not so much because of Snow White herself, or the Seven Dwarfs, but because of the “wicked witch” or was it the “wicked mother-in-law”?! I remembered her ability to cast a spell, to exert a magical influence over someone or something to manipulate them for her own ends.
That in turn made me think especially of young men who fall in love with their girlfriends and who would do anything to make sure that they captured the object of their burning love. You could almost say that the beloved casts a spell over them. They go almost “mad” to ensure their conquest.
In a more sinister vein, we see historical figures capable of exercising control of an almost diabolical nature over the masses. Think of Hitler and the swooning crowds, both men and women, whose faces almost became distorted as they adored their Fuhrer. He was able to get them to do anything he wanted, as we know to our great dismay.
Why do I think of these things today? Well, when you look at that first reading, you see a very old Abraham to whom God has given an only son. You see that this son is the very son through whom God had promised to make it a reality for Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, as many as the stars in the heavens and as the grains of sand on the seashore. But then you see God telling Abraham to take this boy, this son “whom he loves”, and make a human sacrifice of him. You hear no word of complaint from Abraham. It’s as if he mechanically carries out God’s orders, mesmerized if not “under the spell” of God’s will.
The Lord stops Abraham from offering the human sacrifice of Isaac. What God wanted was not that sacrifice, but the sacrifice of Abraham’s obedience and even, yes, his blind obedience. God wanted to test Abraham, not because God himself did not already know what was in Abraham’s heart, but in order to reveal to Abraham himself the depths of his trust and faith in God. As we hear later in the Bible, Abraham obeyed because he trusted that, even if Isaac were sacrificed, God could raise him from the dead and so fulfil the promise. This trial made Abraham aware of his own deep, deep faith.
What we have here is an anticipation of what Jesus demands of us in the Gospel: that we prefer absolutely nothing and no-one to him, including mother, father, children, land, etc..
The question then becomes for us: what do I really want? What you really want in life is what will command your obedience. If, for example, you want a particular job or position or vocation in life, you will work your socks off to achieve that goal. You will set aside and renounce things which, while legitimate in themselves, might prevent you from “obeying” that desired goal. Think of the strict training undergone by the “stars” of the world of sport and entertainment.
In lesser ways, don’t we all do the same? If we want that holiday in the sun, we will make sure that the rest of the year doesn’t get in the way of it and that enough money is carefully set aside to make it happen. In other words, what we want exercises a power of control, of obedience, over us.
At the same time, what we want reveals who we actually are, what we are made of, what we are worth. If someone chooses drugs, you see what they will do to get them. They would sell their own mother if need be. You could argue that that is an addiction. Indeed, it has become one, but at the start it was not. At the start it was chosen, it was wanted and so power was given to the drugs to exercise control over the person. It’s a terrible curse, indeed a spell.
If I stop and ask myself: what do I actually give my time to, what do I actually give the energies of my heart to, what are the things I would put first and sacrifice everything else to? This is where the question of God, and especially of Jesus Christ, comes into play. Is he the first in my heart? Is he the first beyond anything and anyone else in my life? Is belonging to him the sole and final outcome which I truly desire for my human existence?
Certainly, it is easy for anyone to make great proclamations about wanting to go to heaven and be with God. But the issue is: do our lives actually show that? Do the priorities that we make, do the things that I spend my time and my money and my love and my grief on demonstrate that Christ is the chosen goal of my existence? Do I spend the things which go to the core of who I am on Jesus?
The Apostles in today’s Gospel, without really knowing what they were saying, said to Jesus, “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here.” What they were looking at was a vision of the Risen Christ, of the Christ who will come at the end of time, accompanied by Moses and Elijah, to judge the living and the dead, i.e. to reveal to each one of us whether or not Jesus was in fact the core desire and meaning and goal of our lives.
The Transfiguration is not just a nice little story to keep us happy. Instead, it thrusts right into the middle of our lives here and now, right into our front living rooms, the question: does this risen Jesus who will come in glory to judge the living and the dead, and who comes to us already under the veil of the sacraments, exercise an influence over me such that I would be prepared to do anything for him? No matter what it would cost me, would I truly desire to do whatever he asked me because it is him I want and desire to be the meaning of my life?
In this week’s bulletin, I have put in a thing I am calling a “Christometer.” You’ve heard of the thermometer and of the speedometer, well this is the Christometer. What I have done is put in it a whole series of statements relating to Christ to test, to measure, whether Christ is really the be all and end all of my life. I have not done this to put anyone in crisis or to make anyone feel bad. On the contrary, I do it (first of all for myself) because we need at times something to cut across our ordinary lives, the routine and humdrum, to make us stop and ask the question: “wait a minute, what am I actually spending my life on? What am I spending my love on? Am I loving the loves I love for the sake of Christ, and Christ for their sake?”
I suppose you could say that it is a kind of examination of conscience. It is intended to make me look again at myself and ask the question: OK, what is it that I need to sacrifice in obedience to the Son of God so that my God-talk is in fact the God-walk that I am walking in my life? Maybe, therefore, it is time for me to let go of certain things. Not just material things, but ways of thinking, attitudes, prejudices, presumptions, presuppositions … all kinds of things which form the way I think and act and live, and which motivate me but which, to be honest, might not really fit with Christ as the be all and end all and meaning of my existence.
Those who first walked the path of Lent were the catechumens, that is, those who were not yet baptised and were preparing themselves throughout Lent for that amazing union with the risen Christ which baptism operates. The whole thrust of their lives was to come to Easter and be made new in Christ. Why don’t we return to being catechumens? Let’s imagine that we are not baptised. Would baptism really and truly be something we keenly desired and that would motivate our daily lives? Would it lead us to drop things and leave things and sacrifice them for Jesus? Would it do so in order that we can hold onto him and be held onto by him and in that way discover the truth as to whether or not he truly is my Lord and my God and my Saviour and my Redeemer, and all the other splendid titles we so easily give him often without understanding their implication for our lives?
So, think of the witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Let yourself be cast under the spell of the Transfigured Christ.