SKIN-DEEP

This homily is based on Matthew 17:1-9.

Many things can be said about the event of the Transfiguration of our Lord. It is literally Jesus’ “brief shining moment”–when his divinity, just for that moment, shines through. It astonishes his select disciples, but before they knew it, the moment was gone.

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In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul uses the Greek word “kenosis”–which means, self-emptying: Our Lord emptied Himself of everything divine in order to become one of us. All throughout His earthly life, our Lord’s divinity was like a treasure buried deep in his humanity, a pearl that gleamed only occasionally and revealed itself fully only in rare moments like the Transfiguration and later on, the Resurrection–and even then, only to a select few.

Here’s one message that we can draw from the event of the Transfiguration: Since the Incarnation, ours has been a “God with skin on.” Through the Risen Christ, God simply hasn’t stopped putting on skin since then. Unfortunately, finding God in other people isn’t easy; it’s something we need to put our hearts into and really work on. We need to strain our eyes, open our hearts, and dig deep to unearth the hidden treasure of Jesus’ presence in others.

But to make matters worse, God usually chooses to put on skin that’s far from flawless. He prefers to put on skin stained with sweat, stench, and scars, making it virtually impossible for us even to think about looking for Him there. In that passage in Matthew on the Last Judgment, our Lord asks us one question at the end of our lives: “Did you do this or that to the least of my brothers and sisters?” And by “least” He means people precisely with far-from-flawless skin: the poor, the sick, the prisoners. No wonder it’s hard to find God and to love Him with skin on because our vision usually takes us only skin deep, and we all naturally tend to judge people based on how they look from the outside.

Now, it sure is hard enough to find and love “God with skin on” from the outside. But can you imagine what happens if we get an inside look at all the mess and chaos swirling in a person, if we get a pass to a private screening of a person’s entire history of weaknesses and wickedness? To find God there, to even conceive of seeking Him there–that’ll be the hardest thing to do.

But that’s exactly our call: To find and love “God with skin on”–not only from the outside, but also from the inside. And that’s why it’s so hard to love ourselves. It is only in ourselves, after all, where we get to see “God with skin on” from the inside–with all our fears, anxieties, and sins. If you’re anything like me, you can probably get quite harsh with yourself too. You’re probably your worst critic and least compromising judge. And finding God in yourself is most likely one of the toughest things to do.

But try we must–to find God in all things, in other people, as well as in ourselves. In one of his great poems, the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins gives us the reason: “For Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.”

If we want to find the Lord, we need to dig deeper Put another way, God isn’t just skin-deep.

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