Listen to Him by Rev. Richard Hasselbach, Ph.D
InMetamorphosis, the Roman poet Ovid recounts the legend of Pygmalion, a sculptor who created an ivory statue of a beautiful woman. HIs lifeless creation was so beautiful that he fell in love with it. He tenderly embraced the figure and, as he kissed it, its lips becamewarmand its cold ivory became soft flesh: his beloved had come to life.
The story of Pygmalion inspired George Bernard Shaw to write his turn-of-the-century play Pygmalion. Shaw’s protagonist is Henry Higgins, a pompous British professor. Higgins boasts to a friend: “I wager I could pass off that Cockney flower girl” pointing to Eliza Doolittle, “as a duchess simply by teaching her to speak properly.” The bet is on: Higgins sets about teaching Eliza to speak and act like a “lady.” Higgins triumphs: an elegant, well-spoken Eliza arrives at the Ambassador’s Ball and is taken by all present to be a duchess. Then, like Pygmalion before him, Henry falls in love with his creation.
Luke tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9: 28-36) at a turning point in his Gospel. Peter’s has just proclaimed his belief that Jesus is “the Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20). Jesus then begins to teach his disciples what they don’t want to hear: the son of man must suffer; and they must “pick up their cross daily” if they want to be his disciples. “If you want to save your life,” he teaches them, “you need to lose it.”
ThenJesus took Peter, John, and James up a mountain to pray. While praying Jesus was transformed: his face changed; his clothes shined as bright as lightning; Moses and Elijah stood with him in their glory. While all this was going on, “the disciples,” we are told, were “heavy with sleep.”
How do you sleep through something like this?
This wasn’t the first time they missed the Lord’s Glory. When Jesus touched the untouchable leper telling him that “Nothing is unclean to God,” that was the glory of God. When Jesus ate with the despised tax collector and assured him: “This day salvation comes to your house,” that was the glory of God. When Jesus ate with prostitutes and sinners who had never heard a forgiving word their entire lives, that was the glory of God. If the disciples have missed the glory of God in all of that, it’s no wonder they had trouble seeing God’s glory shining forth on the mount of transfiguration.
Could the same be said of us? Lord hasn’t stopped loving the outcasts and calling them to himself; he hasn’t stopped forgiving. The glory of God all around us, too, just waiting to be seen.
There is another unusual aspect to this story: listen to the Father’s voice speaking from the cloud. “This is my son, the chosen one. Listen to him.” Jesus stands before their eyes: face changed; clothes dazzling; chatting with two celestial beings and the father doesn’t say, “Look at him.” He says, “Listen to him.” Listen!
It is Jesus’ words, not his appearance, that matter. On the mountain, the disciples see the Messiah they want: full of transcendent glory, powerful and majestic; but Jesus words reveal the Messiah they need: the suffering servant bearing the sin of the world on the cross. It is he who says: “The Son of Man must suffer …”. He says to them, and to us,: “Pick up your cross daily; die to yourself so that you can live.” Listen to him.
The disciples have just seen one of the most amazing demonstrations of God’s power that has ever occurred and what do they do? Nothing. Who do they tell? Nobody. If something like that happened to you, wouldn't you want to tell someone: your spouse, your kids, your next door neighbors, your Facebook friends? Somebody?
We witness the glory of God all the time, or we can if we look, yet we go to church Sunday after Sunday, listen to the message, hear the scriptures, pray a bunch or prayers, leave and never say anything to anyone about God, about faith, about how much Jesus loves us, about how much he loves them. We don’t talk about how God is moving in our lives, and about the miracles we witness all the time. We say nothing even though the Lord has commissioned us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
The Lord does not want us to make the world a better place, He wants to make us into His image, and then the world will be a better place. That can only happen if we deny ourselves, die to our ego, and allow the Spirit to make us one with God. Prayer, meditation, and presence to the Word are what transfigured Jesus, and that is what transforms us into his likeness.
In the end of Pygmalion Henry is stuck: he can’t forget Eliza’s lower class roots: though he loves her he continues to treat as beneath him so Eliza walks out of his life; we don't know if she ever returns. Can Henry win her back? Can he die to his ego and open his heart to true love? Can we? The Lord is able to transform us into his image only if we die to ourselves, to our selfishness, to our petty desires, so that we can love with Christ’s own love.