Seeing Ourselves as God Sees Us

Proclaim Sermons
August 6, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Jesus is the Divine Presence in the Transfiguration althouh he was normally hidden within the human form. In our lives together as the Body of Christ, the trick is to see ourselves as we truly are -- a fellowship of immortals, gloriously reflecting the one who is Light of the World. For us to truly appreciate those who share the pew with us we'll have to imagine a little transfiguring in our midst.

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was a poet best known for "Auld Lang Syne," the lyrics of which are sung badly every New Year's Eve, which no one understands anyway, because Burns wrote in Scots and not English.

One of his other better-known poems is titled "To a Louse." It was inspired by an occasion when he sat behind a well-dressed woman in church, and suddenly spied a creepy crawly he calls a louse on her bonnet, slowly ascending to the top. He was both fascinated and repelled by the insect's journey. He can't take his eyes away as the insect crawls among the ribbons and bows of her headpiece. Burns concludes with the following stanza, also in Scots:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!1

Which translates to: "If only there were some spiritual power that let us see ourselves as others see us. It would free us from many a blunder and foolish notion. Maybe we wouldn't spend so much time or take such pride in our appearance."

We all need to be brought down a peg or two on occasion by getting insight into how we appear to others. But more recently, as our churches struggle to make sense of who we are as the Body of Christ after the pandemic, we could all use even a healthy dose of seeing each other with God's eyes. Perhaps a clue about how we look to God might be found in today's passage about the Transfiguration.


This particular passage begins with the words "Six days later ...." Six days after what? Nothing less than an astounding moment when Jesus asked his disciples "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"2 They reply that he is compared to Elijah, Jeremiah or another prophet, but when questioned further about what they think, Peter boldly proclaims, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."3

Which is good as far as that goes, until Jesus reveals that part of being the Messiah involves suffering -- going up to Jerusalem where he will "be killed, and on the third day be raised."4 When Peter objects, Jesus rebukes him with harsh language and explains that following him will mean that each of us must pick up our own cross.

It is six days after this exchange that Jesus is transfigured. Metamorphosis, the Greek word behind transfiguration, means to be changed in form and/or appearance. When Moses comes down the mountain after speaking to God, his face reflects the light of God.5 That is a change in appearance. When a caterpillar is changed into a butterfly, that's a change in both form and appearance.

When Jesus is transfigured, we are seeing a change in appearance -- but his form is unchanged. He is divine whether we see it or not.

Matthew tells us the face of Jesus shone like the sun. We can only look safely at the sun during a total eclipse. In some way, the glory of God is eclipsed most of the time in Jesus, but here on the mountaintop, the apostles can no longer look directly at his face.

It is such an overwhelming moment that Peter, unable to gaze for more than a second at the formerly familiar Jesus, begins to babble about setting up tents, tabernacles, for Jesus and for the two venerable figures from history, Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets just as Jesus is the Living Law and Prophets.

Even more overwhelming is the voice from the bright cloud, the divine voice whose words, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" are so overwhelming that the three apostles fall to the ground, paralyzed with fear.

It is only the words of the no-longer-transfigured Jesus, "Get up and do not be afraid," that make it possible for the disciples to raise their eyes. The scene closes with the admonition from Jesus to say nothing about what happened until after his death and resurrection.

Matthew pairs this scene with the previous one where Jesus talks about his upcoming death -- where the glory of Jesus is also revealed in such a truthful way that we cannot bear to look directly at Jesus for more than a few seconds without being forced to look away.

The weight of glory

The Hebrew word for glory, kavod, is multi-layered, and part of its root meaning is the word "weight." True glory paralyzes us, as if we found ourselves beneath the pressure of a great weight. The word "substance" is helpful here. Sometimes when we meet a person of great accomplishment, we find it difficult to speak because we feel the weight of their presence. It's not a matter of celebrity awe. A favorite aunt or grandmother whose life and spirit is so powerful that we find it difficult to be ourselves in their presence is a good example.

In his essay "The Weight of Glory" the Christian author C.S. Lewis talks about glory and weight, and not only their presence in the divine, but also in us! We are all immortals, he reminds us. "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."6 We ought to be thankful that our glory is hidden from us most of the time, because if it were revealed, we might fall down in worship of the glory that each of us reflects from its source in the divine light in Jesus.

A more proper response, Lewis suggests, is that we treat each other as creatures of weight and substance. "The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken."7

The apostle Paul tells us the way we can metamorphize -- he uses exactly that word -- into being able to bear each other's burdens with full appreciation for the weight of glory is to refuse "to be conformed to this age, but be transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing of the mind so that you may discern what is the will of God -- what is good and acceptable and perfect."8

Listen to him

The last words the divine voice says on the mountaintop is "Listen to him." The first thing Jesus says to his disciples on the way down, however, is to say nothing about this until after the resurrection. Why?

Because glory for so many of us is assigned to the lightest things -- the most likes on Facebook, followers on twitter, ratings on television. Instead of taking them for the harmless entertainment they might be, we make gods of lightweights. That's why it's good to take the words of Robert Burns to heart when we preen ourselves for worldly glory, like the woman in his poem, "To A Louse," without a thought to the little bug of our folly crawling up our hat.

We should be just as wary, because of our shared reflected glory, of castigating each other. Catharine Hummer (fl. 1762), of White Oak, Pennsylvania, was a teen in Colonial America when her father, a pastor, allowed her to preach about the visions of angels and God's mercy that she was granted. She was heavily criticized for so doing. Later she wrote to her spiritual leader Alexander Mack, Jr. (1712-1803) about "the winter of persecution" she was enduring after preaching about the visions of angels and heaven she was granted, and said further:

Dear Brother Sander, you wrote me that in the end the weightiest will weigh less than nothing, once they are weighed on the right scales. I am indeed imperfect, but may the Lord put His good spirit into my heart so that when I am weighed I might have the correct weight and be taken out of this sorrowful world into eternal rest, where no enemy can trouble me anymore.9

Let's remember why Jesus had earlier admonished Peter -- because he expected Jesus to achieve glory without betrayal and death. There is no glory for Jesus without the cross. There is no glory for us without recognizing that we are transformed, and our glory revealed, in our worst moments, when we serve each other and lift up each other in the darkest hours. That's one reason we don't always see each other's true glory, except in glimpses.

Our true weight of glory hasn't yet been revealed to each other or to ourselves. That glory is present in all of us. But to see more clearly, or at least through a glass darkly, our method of looking must, at the very least, be transfigured -- transformed. The suffering we share on our own road to Calvary, carrying our crosses, will help clarify our vision, until we see each other as God sees us -- reflecting the light of Christ, bearing the marks of eternal glory.