There was once a brilliant Saturday Night Live parody of a car commercial. David Spade walks out of a nice restaurant to find his new BMW has been stolen and Phil Hartman’s voice begins to narrate as the camera cuts to him walking in front of the 1993 Chameleon XLE. “Finally,” he says, “a luxury car that doesn’t look like a luxury car.” “Inside, the Chameleon XLE has everything you would expect in a luxury sedan of its class. Soft leather seating, a contoured instrument panel, and fine wood. But there’s more – much more. Outside, authentically distressed fenders give way to a partially padded roof of blistered vinyl. While under the hood, a simulated transmission-fluid drip whispers, ‘Hey, not worth the trouble.’ This is craftsmanship no one will steal. There’s attention to detail. Like three mismatched wheel covers, and one exposed rim in school-bus yellow. Standard. A broken taillight repaired with duct tape. Standard. The body of a Pontiac with a driver’s-side door from an Oldsmobile Delta ’88. All standard. A car thief takes one look at this, and keeps right on walking. Of course, it’s equipped with an automatic alarm system – but do you really think you’ll need it?” As Phil Hartman is walking away he hits the alarm button on his key chain and one the front passenger side wheels seems to blow out while the whole car slouches forward at an angle. “The Chameleon XLE. They might tow it away, but they’ll never steal it!”
It seems to me that the Word of God also has a tendency to sneak under the radar. If I’m not careful my consciousness doesn’t pick it up at all. Or I miss its relationship to me. That God is speaking to me. I remember in seminary, when the priests who were our formators, our teachers, would be at Mass concelebrating – well they would be up in the sanctuary seated opposite all of us students – maybe during the readings, but definitely during the homily they would all have their eyes closed as if they might be meditating. I am still tempted to think it was so that we couldn’t catch them if they drifted off….but like I said, I can be caught off guard and I and we should be doing all that we can to claw and scratch open the shell of God’s message and find the seed. And it’s all kind of ridiculous too – because the word to me…the word to you – the message to us is that we are inheritors of a treasure that makes any Powerball look like chump change. Imagine if God promised us cash. Can you imagine during Mass if the readings occasionally announced that so-and-so from our parish was to be awarded 50 million dollars? We would be ecstatic. But, listen to what St. Paul tells Timothy today. He says that God saved us and called us to holiness according to a design of His own and that He has a role for us to play as Christians (members in Christ Jesus) with the grace that He has laid aside for us personally in Jesus Christ since before time began….and this plan is revealed to us (is brought to light) in the Gospel.
Sounds like we should look deeper into our Gospel. But before we get to today’s Gospel and the perfect example of our destiny in Christ being revealed in all its light, think back to the Christ’s baptism in the Jordan. These two episodes are linked together. For in both cases, we see Christ sort of on display in an unusual manner and the voice of the Father proclaiming: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Well, in His baptism – Christ went under the spiritually dirty and tainted waters of the Jordan where all of these chosen people had washed their sinfulness before Him. He does not just identify with sinners – He takes upon Himself all our sins. The chosen people represent everybody and through them we can understand Christ bearing all of humanity’s burden. He is nowhere more aptly called, “the Son of Man” than here. He wants us to know He is with us at our low point as He plunges into the Jordan – which I imagine was particularly icy that morning. He’s like the outside of the Chameleon XLE, except He is all human outside and inside.
But how about today’s event? Jesus climbs the mountain with Peter, James, and John and while still fully human reveals His original nature. It is no accident that this event happens six days after Peter declares Him to be the Son of God. This seventh day can call us to look upon it as a miracle of a New Creation. Peter and all of us would be content we think just to stand there and gawk at Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, he makes the point to mention that this was not just a trick of Christ wearing really nice clothes – the clothes were as no fuller could bleach them. He is always depicted in art as lifted up in this scene suspended. He doesn’t need the Cross to be lifted up, but He will take it so that we can ourselves use our crosses to find a way to this glory. But back to Peter: he wants to strike out and build a monument in a way. One for each of the figures. Perhaps Jesus brought these three men – Peter, James, and John – so that they themselves could become the tents in way. Will they not eventually house Christ within themselves? The Father booms out again, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” and now the Father adds, “Listen to Him,” as in – follow Him to this future for what He holds within you are called to share completely. And we receive from Him, by listening to His will and not our own impulses.
There is one more interesting parallel worth pointing out. We see Christ’s Body glorified today – far above our own situation to “This is my beloved Son.” The Father wants us to wake from sleep. And at the Last Supper, Jesus says, “This is my Body.” And holds up what looks like mere bread – so far beneath our situation. But far enough below that we believe that we can eat of it. In fact we are tempted to take it for granted. The exchange is simple enough: if we give Christ all of our sins, than He will give us all of Himself. That is baptism and confession. In fact we should not receive without examining our hearts according to St. Paul lest we drink judgment upon ourselves. Yet, if in the sacrament of confession we reveal to Christ what is within our hearts then He will be allowed into them, as His proper “tent of meeting” with us and He will share with us the glory that He has hidden beneath such a common appearance.