Jesus lived daily with the unhappy prospect of being rejected by many of his own Jewish people and of being tortured and crucified by the local Roman authorities. Three times during his public life Jesus predicted his rejection by the Jews and his suffering by the Romans. The triple citations in St. Mark’s Gospel are very easily remembered: Mark 8:31, 9:31 and 10:33.
They read as follows: (8:31) He began to teach them that the Son of Man* must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. (9:31) He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” (10:33) Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.”
Christ’s particular personal misfortune was certainly part of a broader perspective which Jesus shared with all people who, like Jesus, are determined to bear witness to the truth. “This is why I was born.” Jesus insisted to Pilate. “This is why I came into the world: to bear witness to the truth.” Whoever elects to speak the truth to power is going to suffer. Power does not like truth. St. Paul would share this same incite with his disciples as they went about speaking the truth to power: “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Christians must expect grief and not be disheartened when misfortunes occur. As St. Paul writes elsewhere, “So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” For believers, harassment is the norm not the exception.
Knowing the trials and tribulations that were ahead for all who follow Christ and stand up for the truth, Jesus invited Peter, James and John to come apart by themselves and accompany Jesus up a high mountain. There, Jesus is transformed with radiant glory. He enters into conversation with the Biblical heroes Moses and Elijah. St. Peter is so overwhelmed that he wants to prolong the incident as long as he can: “Let us erect three tents here…” St. Peter begins to grasp that in Jesus the disciples are encountering more than an itinerant preacher. Jesus ranks with the greatest prophets. But then, not to be outdone, God the Father announces that Jesus is indeed more than a celebrated prophet. Jesus is God’s own “beloved Son” whom the disciples would do well to heed and emulate. Coming down the mountain, the disciples forget Moses and Elijah and have eyes for “Jesus only,” the unique source of strength in time of adversity.
The Christian church and the modern world are not immune to mutual controversy, conflict, and contention. Moral issues especially divide the teachings of the Church from the practices of the contemporary world. Abortion, contraception, sterilization, fetal experimentation, cohabitation, divorce, same-sex attraction, assisted suicide, as well as differing views on religion in public life and social responsibility for the poor clearly divide the sacred and the secular worldviews. Pope Francis even lately cautioned the world about the alleged right to blaspheme. Recently retired Cardinal George of Chicago had no illusions about the disparity between the Christian world and the Western political world. The cardinal remarked, “I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
The vision of Christ, Son of God, transfigured on the mountain in Palestine is an encouragement for all believers in times of adversity and challenge. Christ persevered in bearing witness to the truth and Christ’s Church must persist in announcing the Good News no matter how controversial.