A man named Steve Covey wrote a best-selling book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and one of these habits is being careful about making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. He learned this lesson from something that happened on a New York subway car one Sunday morning. People were sitting quietly, either reading their newspapers, dozing, or enjoying the silence. Everything was very peaceful—until a man and his children got aboard. Before long, the children were yelling, throwing things, even grabbing people’s newspapers. The father just sat there and did nothing, and Steve wondered how he could be so insensitive as to let his children annoy people that way. Everyone in the subway car was quite irritated, and finally Steve took it upon himself to say, with as much patience as he could muster, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little?” As if coming out of a trance, the man answered, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. You see, we just came from the hospital where their mother died an hour ago. I don’t know what to think and I guess they don’t know how to handle it, either.” As Steve later wrote, “Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? Suddenly I saw things differently. Because I saw differently, I felt differently. I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or behavior. My heart was filled with this man’s pain. Feelings of compassion and sympathy flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’” (Bausch, Storytelling the Word, p. 234).
Steve had been understandably but wrongly assuming this man didn’t care how his children were behaving; when he discovered the reality behind the appearances, his attitude was suddenly and completely transformed. Learning the truth will sometimes have this effect upon us—and as Christians, we’re called to be open to this experience. Jesus’ Transfiguration allowed Peter, James, and John to see His divine glory for a brief moment. If we allow His Holy Spirit to be active within us, our lives will be transformed, and we’ll become more capable of recognizing the truth and looking upon all the people around us with love and compassion.
Like many of you, I’ve seen Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, and have found it to be a powerful and compelling testimony of Christ’s love. The enormity of what Jesus suffered is shown in a very graphic way, and this truth can help us understand why Our Lord wanted Peter, James, and John—His inner circle—to have this special vision of His divine nature. All three apostles saw Christ’s agony in the garden, and John also witnessed the full extent of His suffering on Calvary as he stood beneath the Cross. Jesus wanted them to understand that His divine power could have spared Him from His Passion and death, but He freely endured it out of love; He wanted the apostles to be fortified by this vision on Mt. Tabor—a powerful reminder that things aren’t always as they seem. During the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about what He was to accomplish in Jerusalem; the three apostles overheard this conversation, though they didn’t yet understand what was being discussed. Nevertheless, this memory stayed with them, as did the Father’s words “This is My chosen Son.” God’s glory is beyond our comprehension, but it does serve as a reminder of His trustworthiness and of our need for Him. The Book of Genesis describes how God made a covenant with Abram, His faithful servant (whose name would later be changed to Abraham), and sealed it with a vision of a flaming torch passing amid Abram’s sacrificial offerings. The Lord doesn’t use visions and signs of His immeasurable glory to frighten us or “put us in our place,” but to invite us to live with Him—for as St. Paul reassures us, our citizenship is in God’s kingdom of heaven, and Jesus will one day transform our earthly bodies, making us fully capable of sharing in His glorious new life.
The time to begin preparing for our future transformation in Christ is here and now—and one of the best ways of doing this is learning to see other people through the eyes of Jesus. The great American author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “If we could only read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” In other words, knowing the truth about each person we encounter would instantly change our perspective and replace anger or suspicion with sympathy and acceptance. As it happens, we aren’t mind readers, so most of the burdens other people carry are unknown to us; however, we are Christians, and this is supposed to mean that we go out of our way to look for the good in the people around us, and assume the best about them, and pray for them when they anger or hurt or offend us. Maybe that person behaving in what we feel is a rude or improper manner normally doesn’t act that way, but is preoccupied with some sort of personal crisis. Perhaps the woman we consider aloof or stuck-up is still recovering from the wounds inflicted in an abusive relationship, and isn’t quite ready or able to trust other people again. It’s possible the man we consider brash or obnoxious is plagued by deep feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, and is coping with them in the only way he knows how. Maybe the child we judge to be ill-disciplined and rebellious is actually crying out for love and acceptance after being put down again and again by uncaring parents. Perhaps the person who strikes us as dull and boring is in fact someone with a lot of interesting ideas and valuable talents to share, but has decided to withdraw and play it safe after many experiences of rejection. Jesus doesn’t expect us to know these things, and He certainly doesn’t want us to begin psychoanalyzing the people we meet or probing for their inner secrets, nor do we have to ignore our own needs and rights or refrain from politely correcting rude or annoying behavior. What Our Lord does ask is that we allow His grace to enter into every situation—specifically, by saying a short, silent prayer for guidance, by trying to assume the best and giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, and by reminding ourselves that each person we encounter is deeply loved by God.
Jesus’ Transfiguration allowed Peter, James, and John to see Him in a new way—a vision that not even the horrors of His passion and death could erase. If we open ourselves to the trans-forming power of Christ’s love, we too will begin to see things more clearly and in a different light—and this will prove to be a source of grace for ourselves and the people around us.