One morning a businessman walking down a city sidewalk noticed a poor tramp or vagrant selling flowers for a dollar each. He happened to have a dollar handy, so he dropped it in the tramp’s cup and continued on his way, but halfway down the block he suddenly stopped and turned around. The businessman came back to the tramp, picked out one of the flowers, and said, “I’m sorry, sir. In my haste I failed to make my purchase. After all, you are a businessman, just like myself. I can tell that your flowers are fairly priced and of good quality. I hope you won’t be upset with my forgetting to pick out my purchase.” With that, he smiled and hurried off again, before the stunned tramp had a chance to say anything. A few weeks later, while the businessman was lunching at a restaurant in that neighborhood, a neatly-dressed, handsome man approached him and said, “Excuse me, sir. I’m sure you don’t remember me, and I don’t even know your name, but your face is one I’ll never forget. You are the man who inspired me to make something of myself. Last month I was a vagrant selling flowers on a street corner until you gave me back my self-respect and a sense of dignity. That changed everything, for now I believe I am a businessman, too” (Cavanaugh, Sower’s Seeds Aplenty, #5). This is a wonderful, true story of transformation; a man’s life was profoundly changed simply because someone took the time to notice him and treat him with dignity and respect. While we may never experience those same dramatic results, it’s entirely possible that we will be given the opportunity to somehow “transfigure” another person, and doing so can be a source of great blessing—for one of the things that allows God’s glory to shine most brightly in us is our willingness to acknowledge His presence in others.
Each year on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel describes Jesus’ Transfiguration—and this event speaks not only of His glory, but also of His willingness to involve others in this experience. Our Lord took three of the apostles with Him to the top of Mt. Tabor so that, by witnessing a sign of His divinity, they might be better prepared to endure the terrible scandal of His upcoming passion and death. They heard the voice of God the Father testify on behalf of His Son, and they also saw Moses and Elijah—the two greatest figures of the Old Testament— speaking to Jesus reverently. It was abundantly clear to the apostles that their Master was someone sent from heaven in a unique and glorious way; their powerful experience on Mt. Tabor was something of a prefiguring of the life-changing transformation they themselves would experience on Pentecost Sunday. As they were coming down the mountain Jesus told them to keep this knowledge to themselves for the time being, but to bear witness to it after His resurrection—and this, in fact, is what they did through the power of the Holy Spirit, by means of signs and wonders and by preaching powerfully in Christ’s Name. As St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy states, God’s grace has been “made manifest through the appearance of our Savior Jesus Christ,” and we are meant to respond by living holy lives and by faithfully enduring whatever hardships our faith may involve. Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, did this by obeying the Lord when he was commanded to leave his native land and kinsfolk and journey to an unknown land. Because Abram trusted in God, he became father of a great nation and a source of blessing for others; his radical act of faith and obedience made a lasting difference in the lives of many people. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we too can have a profound and lasting difference on others.
Have you ever had someone make a special effort to listen to you, to encourage you, and to believe in you, someone whose influence made a real difference in your life? Perhaps this special person was a teacher or neighbor or grandparent; maybe it was the parent of a classmate or friend, an aunt or uncle, or even a complete stranger who just happened to be there at a time you needed a little extra understanding and acceptance. If you’ve encountered someone like that, someone who influenced you to become a better person—even if just for a moment or only in a very small way—you can be sure that the Holy Spirit was also there, making that a moment of grace. Now, as followers of Jesus, you and I are called to render this same favor and blessing to others. It might involve being there for a grieving or heartbroken person, even though you don’t know what to say; it might mean sympathizing with someone who’s just been laid off or downsized, even though you have no practical solutions or answers; it might mean reaching out to someone who’s isolated and alienated from everyone because of having committed a terrible sin or mistake, and accepting that person in Christ’s Name, even though you don’t approve of what he or she did. Sometimes people forget that they are children of God; when they stop believing in themselves, it’s all the more important that we believe in them. Jesus wants us to be signs of hope, and to bring His love and peace to those who’ve lost sights of these things. Entering into the sense of wonder children often experience, encouraging a young person to pursue his or her dream, asking someone whether he or she has considered a religious vocation, saying “I believe in you” to your spouse or your child when he or she is going through a difficult time, going out of your way to welcome a newcomer to the parish or the neighborhood, giving people your full attention when they’re talking to you, sincerely thanking anyone who does you a favor or gives you service, greeting other people with a warm and friendly smile, and using whatever influence and opportunities you have to encourage people to do their best, are all ways of seeing and drawing forth that inner light and grace God has placed within His sons and daughters. Many people are like candles whose flames have been extinguished by suffering, doubts, or despair—but sometimes it only takes a small effort to reignite them, a willingness on our part to recognize and appreciate their inner dignity and value.
One day we will stand before Jesus and see Him in all His glory. In order to be ready for this day, we must be transformed into His image and likeness, and one of the best ways of doing this for ourselves is by discovering and rejoicing in the presence of God within those around us. We’ll probably never help transform a shabbily-dressed tramp into a distinguished-looking businessman, but God may allow us to play an even greater role in helping someone on his or her spiritual journey—and if we use this opportunity humbly, respectfully, and lovingly, our heavenly Father will be well pleased.