A theory of everything is the ultimate theory, a hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe. Finding a “theory of everything” is one of the major unsolved problems in physics.
Every year the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent is always one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Be it written by Matthew, Mark, or Luke, each account speaks of Jesus transfigured so that the glory of God, the Shekhinah, is revealed to the disciples in the person of Jesus. Today, you will hear Mark’s version (9:2-10). The meaning of the Transfiguration is complex and varied, but among its meanings, is that it points to the glory that awaits us as co-heirs of eternal life, and that Christ “has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) It’s a lot to ponder, pray, and reflect upon: are we somehow to share in the glory revealed on that mountain top? It is a mystery, indeed.
It is said that every text has a context lest it simply be reduced to a pretext for what the one using the text wanted to say in the first place. So, what is the context for our amazing story of the Transfiguration? Mark, Chapter 8 ends with Jesus’ prediction of his own passion and death: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” In other words, follow me, whatever the cost, whatever the burden, even to the point of offering your very life for the sake of others. Only then will you know glory.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, wrote about the illusion of “cheap grace.” I suspect his insights also would apply to “cheap glory” — something to consider when we ponder the meaning of the glory that we might share. Glory is for those who take up their cross and follow Jesus.
The movie “Selma” carries a song, “Glory” written by John Legend and Common. The song describes the march to Selma in terms of glory.
“One day when the glory comes, it will be ours
One day when the war is won, we will be sure
Think about that for a moment. That march, along with the larger struggle for civil rights, was filled with confrontation and suffering and sacrifice. And yet they sing of glory. Why? Precisely because we find glory – and for that matter power and strength and security – only in those moments when we surrender our claims to power and strength and security and glory in order to serve others. That’s what Jesus means when he invites his disciples – then and now – to take up their cross and follow him, giving of themselves in love. And that giving in love almost always includes sacrifice, denying ourselves and our immediate gratification so as to meet another’s needs.
We already know the truth of this. We do it perhaps most naturally as parents, sacrificing all kinds of things in the hope of providing for our children. But we also do it as children, friends, partners, neighbors, and more. And each time we do so – each time, that is, we call into question a momentary “want” of our own in order to satisfy a genuine need of someone else, we experience a kind of glory.
When we stop worrying about gratifying our wants and instead look to the needs around us, and others begin to do the same, we find more than we’d ever imagined – more life, more joy, more happiness, more acceptance – because we find a whole community looking out for us instead of only ourselves, just as we are looking out for the community of persons around us. It is at the core of what it means to belong.
This, I think, is the Gospel’s theory of everything.