Will you be transformed? At one level that is the most basic question that is being asked of you each time you encounter the Word of God – proclaimed here in Church or in that still small whisper at the edge of your life or in the well of your soul. Will you be transformed?
Transformation is the very work of the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word…. All things came to be through him… What came to be through him was life.” Transformation from nothingness to a world created, a world filled and teeming with life. Such is the power one encounters in the Word of God: creative, transforming, bestowing life to the fullest.
Will you be transformed? It is the question asked of all the men and women of the stories of Scripture. It is the question to which we bring our faith and fear, hopes and hesitancies, and our human thinking. We bring all that we are in that moment. It was what Abraham and Sarah brought when the Word of God came to them and invited them to leave all that they knew and had built and to go to a land that He would show them and make their offspring as many as the stars in the sky. In that moment they perhaps thought, “Great, we’re on board with the whole plan, but say… maybe we could do all that right here in our present home.” But in the end they took the first step, and the next step, and next on the journey. It was a journey of loss, leaving behind so much. It was a journey of gain beyond measure and expectation deep into the covenant of love with God. But they did not know that at the beginning.
The rich young man comes to Jesus and tells Him that all the commandment have been kept and he is doing all that is commanded. “What else must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus compliment him and tells him there is only one thing more – one thing – sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and follow me. Right… what else can I do instead? And he did not take the first step. Instead he turned and went away sad – untransformed, the journey left unexplored.
The prophet Jeremiah in our first reading. He had already answered the word of God and gone out to proclaim the love of God, the goodness of the covenant, and the freeing grace of forgiveness and reconciliation. Jeremiah has already taken many steps on the journey and has hit a low point. The people are not willing to be transformed, give up their ways for the ways of God. Jeremiah believes it is all for naught. It is a this point we hear Jeremiah lament: “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped” “I have already given up so much, lost so much, and where’s the gain? These are indeed a stiff-necked people. What’s the point? We know that the Word came again, Jeremiah responded and went back to work.
Scripture is filled with such encounters — moments when God speaks to men and women, engaging them, over-turning their assumptions in order that they hear, understand a little more and are drawn closer to the heart of God. It is not just Scripture. Life is filled with these encounters. Think about marriage. It starts with such hopes and love – and then just watch it all transformed in the joys and sorrows, days and nights as spouses learn to give up part of themselves in hope they are gaining more along the way. Marriage or any endeavor in life has moments like Jeremiah – what’s the point. It is a journey that tempts one, like the rich young man, to just turn away. The moments like Abraham and Sarah when we want to negotiate a softer landing. In all of those moments of life, the Word of God is present, asking if you will be transformed.
Through these encounters of Scripture and life, we can listen in on God and overhear his words and watch our ancestors and ourselves wrestle with fear and faith; with good and evil; and with what it means to lose your life, in order to find it. The Word of God comes and we encounter it with the terrible power of our freedom. Will we choose to lose? Do we understand that gain is on the other side of pain? Will we be transformed?
Now we can peer into the encounter between Peter and Jesus, the living Word of God. Peter proclaims “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!” then hears the prediction of suffering and death and insists “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” Jesus rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” From head of the class to back of the line. What was it like in that moment for Peter? I am sure Peter is dumbfounded, furiously thinking, “this can’t be possible – this is not how it is supposed to go. The Messiah wins, right? We get saved, right?…. How is this in any way the love of God, the goodness of the covenant, and the freeing grace of forgiveness and reconciliation?”
For Peter, the idea that his Lord would embrace death upon the cross— that he would willingly walk out to meet violence, suffering, injustice, stopped him dead in his tracks. That’s what the crosses in our lives tend to do. What is next for Peter? Scripture is silent on that question, but I would guess he did what we tend to do. We try to smooth the edges of the cross, tame it, reshape it, hollow out the core to reduce the weight…. all before even deciding if he was going to pick it up at all.
Peter eventually picks up the cross – sets it down – picks it up again – and more. He loses his life bit by bit, but in the end wins his life. And along the way he was a saint and a sinner. Along the way found forgiveness and redemption. But I think he always wondered about the power of transformation. How does that sign of Roman domination and torture become the sign of our salvation?
In his life Peter came to understand the Cross as a sign of hope, a way to the fullness of life, a sign that God so loved the world He held back nothing – not even the life of his very Son. Our savior picked up his cross and transformed it. I suspect Peter reached that point where is kinda’ understood that, maybe never completely (maybe so) – but understanding was never the critical element.
In the moments when it was only intuition, Peter chose to trust. He took a step. He picked up his burden. He faced new difficulties and burdens. And he trusted and took on a new way of hearing and living God’s Word. As Peter continued to listen in on God, he began to understand the lessons of the cross. He began to see as God sees. He began to understand, not that God would prevent all pain— remove all barriers— take away all sorrow— but rather, that these burdens could be transformed by God just the cross had been transformed.
Burdened, duped, disappointed, rebuked. Jeremiah, Abraham and Sarah, and Peter – what separates them from the rich young man? What separates them from all the others who encountered the Word but did not take the step.
The witness of the lives in Scriptures, the lives of the Saints – and if we are paying attention – our own stories.
If you will be transformed, then choose to trust, and take the first step. And the next.