1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Matthew 14:14-22
We gather today during a very rich period of the life of the Church. Even as we continue to celebrate our Lord’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, we continue in the Dormition Fast in preparation to commemorate the falling asleep in Christ of the Theotokos and her assumption into heaven as a whole person. When something is transfigured, it is changed into a more beautiful or glorious state. At Christ’s Transfiguration, the change was actually in the spiritual eyes of Peter, James, and John, for they were enabled to behold the divine glory of the Lord to the extent that that is possible for human beings. The entire life of the Theotokos was one of transfiguration as an obscure Jewish virgin in Palestine became the Mother of God through her humble obedience and complete receptivity to the Lord. Her tomb was found to be empty after three days, for she was the very first to follow her Son into the heavenly kingdom. As such, she is an icon of the God-Man’s transfiguration of the human person. She exemplifies how we may all become “partakers of the divine nature” by offering every dimension of ourselves to Christ for healing and fulfillment.
We will miss the point of both our Lord’s Transfiguration and the Dormition of the Theotokos if we simply admire them from afar as important religious events that occurred long ago. The point of our celebration of the great feasts of the Church is to enter personally into the spiritual truth that they convey, which means to share more fully in Christ’s salvation. We must commemorate the disciples’ beholding His divine glory by uniting ourselves to the Lord more fully, by being transfigured in holiness as we become radiant with His gracious divine energies. The Dormition of the Theotokos likewise calls us to become like her in purity of heart, obedience, and receptivity to the Lord so that we will follow her into the joy of the heavenly kingdom. She shows us where a life of saying “Yes!” to God with every ounce of our being leads.
Unless we are completely deluded, we know how unworthy we are of visions like that of the disciples on Mt. Tabor. They actually saw Christ’s face shining like the sun with His clothes as white as light as He spoke with Moses and Elijah. They heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The Lord was transfigured in order to show the apostles, before the crucifixion, that He is truly the Son of God and that His “suffering was voluntary.” He was teaching them through this miraculous vision, though they did not get the point at the time. Nonetheless, Peter later wrote, “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father…we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (2 Pet. 1:10-19)
If we think in conventional terms, we may be tempted to think that matters so glorious have nothing to do with the likes of you and me. We are not on Mt. Tabor, but in a small parish in a region with very few Orthodox Christians. We do not need a miraculous vision in order to know of the Lord’s divinity, for we already share in His life as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The problem is not that we are unaware of Who Christ is, but that we have not offered ourselves fully to Him for transfiguration in holiness in the ways that are presently available to us.
Today’s gospel lesson provides a memorable example of how to do precisely that. In the face of thousands of hungry people who had followed the Lord into the wilderness, the disciples understandably wanted Him to send them away in order to buy their own food. But Christ responded, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The disciples had only five loaves of bread and two fish, a ridiculously small amount of food for a large crowd. But they obeyed when “He said, ‘Bring them here to Me.’” The Savior then “blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
The disciples offered to Christ what they had that day: five loaves of bread and two fish. He transfigured that tiny offering into a massive feast with far more leftover than what the hungry crowd could eat. This miracle shows that the key question is not what or how much we offer according to any conventional standard, but whether we offer all that we have for the Lord’s blessing. He will do the rest. The disciples surely did not know what was going to happen when they handed over their bread and fish to the Lord on that particular day. But had they not offered what little food they had to Christ, the crowd would have gone hungry. If no one bakes the bread or brings the wine for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, no one will be nourished by the Eucharist. By miraculously satisfying so many with so little, Christ revealed what it means for us to live eucharistically as we offer ourselves and our resources for the fulfillment of His gracious purposes for the world and all its inhabitants. No matter how small or insignificant we think our offerings are, we can put no limits on how He will multiply them for the blessing and salvation of our neighbors. If we want to be transfigured in holiness, we must not hold them back.
This miracle teaches us never to diminish the importance of the offerings that we presently have the ability to make to the Lord. It is not our responsibility to determine what He will do with them, but only to offer them as best we can. Perhaps the worst thing we can do is to fail to see that every moment of our lives we have the opportunity to play our unique roles in the transfiguration of ourselves and of the world. We may think that our loaves and fish are so insignificant that they have no spiritual importance, but that is simply an excuse to refrain from offering ourselves as best we can. We cannot fully control what thoughts pop into our minds, but we can choose which ones we welcome into our hearts, put into words, and allow to shape our actions and character. We certainly cannot control what challenges each day brings, but we can always choose whether to respond to them according to our passions or as opportunities to offer ourselves to Christ for healing. The same is true in how we respond to temptations of any kind.
According to the conventional standards of the culture in which she lived, the Theotokos was an obscure person who lived an unimportant life. She did not focus on achieving the vain goals of this world, but on living as one who said truthfully, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” Her offering was not a one-time event, but continued throughout the course of her life, even as she stood by the foot of the Cross as her Son died. Likewise, our path to transfiguration in holiness will occur one day at a time as we mindfully say “Yes!” to God in the midst of whatever challenges and temptations we face. Instead of worrying about the size or circumstance of our offering, we must simply make the offering that we presently can. That is all that Christ asks of us. Even as He accepted the few loaves and fish from the disciples, which seemed terribly inadequate before thousands of hungry people, He will accept and bless our offering, provided that it is the fruit of our obedience. He asks nothing more from us than that. We do not need to have mystical visions or do anything that impresses ourselves or anyone else. We need only to offer the small details of our lives to Him every day for blessing, healing, and fulfillment. If we do that, then by His grace, we too will know personally the joy of His Transfiguration.