“WHERE ARE YOUR HIDING PLACES?” (Mt 17:1-9): 17 February 2008 (Second Sunday of Lent)
In today’s gospel, our Lord goes to one of his favorite hiding places: the mountain. As we may have noticed in the gospels, every time the Lord gets too tired from his work, or whenever he needs to pray or to be alone, he often goes up a mountain to hide there, away from the crowds, bringing with him only his three closest disciples: Peter, James, and John.
That’s exactly what he does today, except that this time something quite out of the ordinary happens. We are told that before the very eyes of his disciples, our Lord is “transfigured”—meaning, his appearance changes: His face begins to shine like the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white.
It sounds like the perfect detergent commercial, doesn’t it? But what’s the big deal about the Transfiguration? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be God anyway? And what is God if not precisely the All-Holy and All-Powerful One? So his face is supposed to shine like the sun; his garments are supposed to be dazzling white! That’s what God is supposed to be like, and that’s why we who are his lowly creatures can approach him properly only with fear and trembling.
All that makes sense, of course—except for one thing: That’s not what our Lord Jesus looked like at all. Far from it, in fact. We have to understand that in Jesus, God became so totally and so utterly human that as the theologians have put it, his divinity was hidden. I bet if we lived during the earthly life of our Lord and bumped into him on the streets of Jerusalem, we would most likely not recognize God in him.
For one, the Lord certainly didn’t go around floating on a little cloud with a shining face, or–much less–in shining clothes. He didn’t wear a halo. There were no trumpets when he spoke. He performed a number of miracles, but for someone who is supposed to be divine, the miracles were actually quite few. He was so human that the divinity was hidden, sometimes even from himself.
St. Paul has a Greek word for it in his letter to the Philippians: “kenosis,” which literally means “self-emptying”—i.e., he emptied himself of his divinity. We constantly need to remind ourselves of this so-called “kenosis” of our Lord. We often prefer our Jesus looking and acting like a superhero, very much like the Jews who preferred their promised Messiah looking and acting like a powerful political savior. Lent is a timely reminder of that often-forgotten truth that’s so central to our faith: That in becoming human, God has decided not to look and act like God—in fact, he has decided to look and act like anything but God, ending up on the cross, dying a death fit for the ungodliest criminals.
What happens at the Transfiguration is that for one brief shining moment, our Lord shows his true self. He “steps out of the closet,” as it were. For one brief—very brief—shining moment, the hidden glory of the Lord, his concealed divinity, breaks through and is made manifest. What is ironic—but maybe also significant—is that our Lord chooses a favorite hiding place…to do what? To come out of hiding.
I can’t help but wonder: Why did the Lord want to go into hiding at all? What’s wrong with being obviously divine? What’s wrong with being self-evident? Wouldn’t the Lord have been more effective that way? Wouldn’t he have gotten more people to believe in him and to turn away from sin? Very often nothing happens when we’re too subtle, when we’re too non-directive. Why did our Lord’s self-manifestations, his epiphanies, during his eartly life have to be so few and so far in between?
To make matters worse, this habit of going into hiding continues even after the Resurrection. You would have thought that this whole business of kenosis, of emptying his divinity, this matter of “playing coy,” would have been left behind in the Empty Tomb that first Easter Sunday, tucked neatly under the shroud. But no, even today, as the mystics say, God is a God who hides.
All you have to do is look at the world today, and to look at our own lives. Where is God? He is nowhere to be seen or heard. Non-believers will say that God is absent and that he is silent. We believers will say that he only seems to be absent, and he only seems to be silent. At any rate, the Lord continues to play this game of hide-and-seek with us. Only he knows why he insists on doing so, but I have two guesses:
First, maybe God thinks that if he’s too self-evident, if he’s too obviously present, we’ll lose our freedom. If God reveals himself completely, maybe we will no longer have a choice about believing and following him, and that power of choice, that freedom of ours, is too valuable for God. Think about it: If the Lrod appeared before us this very moment in all his shining glory, would we still have a choice about believing and following him? We would have no choice but to accept him.
Another guess: Maybe he thinks it’s important for us to exert an effort to look for him, to long for him, to feel our hunger for him so that we will search for him—even desperately—in this world of ours. Maybe God wants us to go to his hiding places precisely because as he has shown in the Transfiguration, it is there in his hiding places that he may come out of hiding.
We’ll never really know why the Lord insists on hiding, but here’s a story that might help:
There was once a boy who played a game of hide-and-seek with his neighbors. When his friends went into hiding, he was especially proud of the way he methodically searched the grounds and patiently found his friends one after the other. When it was his turn to hide, he ran around excitedly until he found what he thought was a pretty clever hiding place. “I’m sure I won’t be found!” he told himself proudly, grinning from ear to ear.
Well, it turned out that he was right. He waited quietly and patiently in his hiding place. He waited and waited and waited until he finally fell asleep. When he woke up hours later, he crawled out of his hiding place only to find that the sun had already set and all his playmates had already gone home. He cried as he walked home, feeling betrayed because his friends had abandoned their search for him.
Now, this boy’s game of hide-and-seek with his friends is a little bit like God’s game of hide-and-seek with us. We all of us are like the boy’s playmates, and God is like that boy. When we go into hiding—and we know that we all have had occasions when we actually hide from God—what does God do? Like the boy in the story, God patiently looks for us and does not give up until we are found. But what happens when it’s God’s turn to go into hiding? Do we also patiently seek him until he is found? Or do we, like that boy’s playmates, eventually decide to give up and abandon the search.
On this second Sunday of Lent, we find ourselves facing a God who hides, who reveals himself in moments too few and too far in between. We see this in the earthly life of Christ; we see it in our own lives every day. God hides. But the question is, what do we do when he does? Will we do everything to seek him? Or will we simply abandon the search?
If in your life this Lent, the Lord seems to be in hiding, seek him. Don’t give up and go home. He wants to be found.
(image: “Transfiguration” by Fra Angelico)
Here’s a Quick Question for you: “In your life, is God in hiding? If so, where can you look for him?” Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
Note: Here is a song called “Let Your Spirit” that I wrote for Eddie Dass’s music. It’s an invitation to find God in his hiding places in our lives. Lawrence Cordero created a beautiful music video featuring Noel Cabangon and set in Sagada.
LET YOUR SPIRIT
Let your Spirit shine
Be the sun to end this darkness
So that we may find
The scattered pieces of the selves we lost
On roads we left behind
Let your Spirit soar
Be the wind to lift our weary hearts
Just like before
How we long to hear the music of your voice
Let your breath refresh our troubled world
Just once more
While the world rushes through its days
There’s a secret presence shining from every face
Oooh… All you need is to slow things down
Take the time and look around
And you may find
God’s special hiding place
Let your Spirit fall
You’re the rain that purifies and heals
Our battered souls
May you touch our wooden wounded hearts
May you mend our broken lives and them make them whole
While the world tosses through the night
There’s a sacred silence rising from every side
Oooh… All you need is to slow things down
Take the time and look around
And you may find His special hiding place
Let your Spirit burn
You’re the fire that melts our frozen hearts
Please help us learn
To dare to love without our usual fear
Of giving everything with nothing in return
O come and set our spirits free
Give meaning to the lives we lead
Show us where to go
That we may find the one we seek
Where else can we go
But only to you who sets us free?
Let us dwell in your secret hiding place
Till the day when we shall see you
Face to face