Origen of Alexandria, writing in the early 3rd century about today’s gospel lesson, says the reason Jesus was transfigured only before Peter, James and John – and not before the other disciples – was that only Peter, James and John had the capacity to behold Jesus transfigured. According to Origen, Jesus shows himself to different people differently, depending on their capacity to see him. Origen writes:
The Word has different forms as he appears to each, as is expedient for the beholder. [The Word] is manifested to no one beyond the capacity of the beholder… It is possible for Jesus to be transfigured before some… but before others not to be transfigured.
I imagine your initial response to Origen’s words is not dissimilar to mine: “Great. Where does that leave me? Am I one of those who gets to go up the mountain, or am I one of those who has to stay down below?” But after looking more closely, I realize that Origen is not talking about some Christians being “better” than others; rather Origen is saying that Jesus “is manifested to no one beyond the capacity of the beholder.” That is, Jesus knows us; he knows our capacity to behold him. And he wants to meet us exactly where we are.
Wherever we may be on the “road” of life’s journey, Jesus wants to meet us there. Do you feel unworthy? Jesus wants to meet you there. Do you have some serious doubts or questions about the faith? Jesus wants to meet you there. Are you in a really difficult situation at work, at home, in a relationship? Jesus wants to meet you there! Wherever we are, Jesus wants to meet us there. And he meets us and reveals himself to us at the very limit of our capacity to behold him, nothing more, nothing less.
Jesus meets us exactly at our capacity to behold him because Jesus loves us and wants to be in relationship with us, and he doesn’t wish to overwhelm us by coming on too strong; but neither does he wish to leave us wanting by offering too little. Because he loves and wants to be with us, Jesus meets us exactly where we are.
But Jesus doesn’t just leave us where we are. Over time, Jesus wants to lead us onward. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the 4th century about Moses on the mountain with God (part of today’s lesson from Exodus) says that Moses sees only God’s back and not God’s face because God is always leading us on. God is never behind us, pushing; God is always in front of us, leading, beckoning. God delights to meet us exactly where we are – exactly at our capacity to behold God, no more, no less – and then delights to leads us on.
I wonder, where would you say you are at this time in your life? What do you want? What challenges are you facing? Where are you disappointed? Where might you be experiencing great love, or great loss? Where would you say you are?
Wherever we are, Jesus wants to meet us there. No matter how “messy” the place may feel, wherever we are, Jesus wants to meet us there and to give us as much of himself as we have the capacity to hold, no more no less. Because he loves us; he wants to be with us. And he hopes that we might be open to his leading us on yet closer to Him.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. This Lent, why not take the time – and why not give yourself permission to be vulnerable enough – to let Jesus meet you? Exactly where you are. Because Jesus loves you, he wants to reveal himself to you, and – if you’re open to it – he wants to lead you to a new place where he can even more fully show you his glory.