Our Humble Hidden God

Let’s put the conversation in today’s Gospel in context to understand it: “they were coming down from the mountain” where the Transfiguration had just occurred. Peter, James, and John saw Jesus shining like the sun, with Moses and Elijah talking with him, and the voice of the Father announcing that this is his beloved Son. They had just fallen on their faces in awe and now they are probably dazed, with Jesus instructing them not to tell anyone what they had just seen (how could they even describe this?!) “until the Son of man is raised from the dead” (how could they understand these words?!). These three disciples could not have grasped the depth of what Jesus was communicating.

It seems they reach for what they DO know: Elijah. They had just seen Elijah, and the Scribes taught that Elijah was the herald of the Messiah, referencing Malachi. So they ask him why the scribes say Elijah must come first (clearly, the Messiah is already here, and this recent appearance of Elijah seems to have done nothing to forward his mission).

The Lord’s answer reframes the question. He says that Elijah will come and restore all things, but that the spirit of Elijah has already come to prepare the way, in the person of John the Baptist. We heard this when Jesus said, “if you are willing to accept it, (John) is Elijah who is to come” (Matt 11:15). Luke says that the Baptist will come “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). So the spirit of Elijah in the person of John the Baptist prepared for the Messiah’s first coming. It is not clear whether, as some of the Patristics believed, Elijah will indeed come again to prepare for the Final Coming of Christ.

Jesus does not explicate that here. He DOES, however, use this inquiry to help them see that John the Baptist was a precursor in more ways than one: he came and prepared the way for the Messiah, preaching repentance; he also suffered death for witnessing to the Truth. Jesus points out that the Son of Man will also suffer. He is preparing the disciples to see that, in some way, the great Elijah is the martyred Baptist; similarly, the glorious Messiah will be the crucified Son of Man. Our God is a hidden, humbled, self-sacrificing God.

As we prepare for Christmas, we consider Jesus’ first coming, consider whether we are living for his final coming, and open our hearts more fully to his coming to us every day. Like the disciples, we must see that our mighty God comes to us in the most improbable ways: veiled in the smallest particle of the Eucharist, hidden in the interruptions and duties of each day, and quietly entering the world as a helpless Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. The King of endless glory conquers our hearts by giving Himself to us, every moment of every day so that we can live in union with him.

Kathryn is married to Robert, mother of seven, grandmother to two, and a lay Carmelite. She has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and also as a writer and voice talent for Holy Family Radio. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and presenter, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, individual parishes, and Catholic ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Learn more at www.kathryntherese.com or on Facebook @summapax.