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No to stigmatization and yes to love beyond boundaries: the transfiguration of Jesus as a call to self-transcendence

Our reflection for the second week of Lent, 16 – 22 March, comes from Fr Jacquineau Azetsop SJ from Cameroon. He reflects on the second reading (2 Tm 1:8b-10) and Gospel (Mt 17:1-9) of the second Sunday of Lent, 16 March.

Timothy is the representative of Paul at Ephesus. He is a young man whose health is quite fragile. He is very zealous and apostolic but a bit timid due to his young age. As leader of the Christian community of Ephesus, he faces difficult problems: he must fight the Jewish preachers who want to mix faith with cabalistic considerations of the Law and Jewish traditions. Paul encourages Timothy to stand firm in proclaiming the Gospel despite the suffering and challenges, sustained by the grace of God that is evident in the Risen Christ.

Where did Paul get the charism of treating his disciple so well? He may have gotten it from his upbringing. But what is sure is that Paul’s life changed radically when he met the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus. He owes his faith and apostolic success to this fundamental encounter with Christ. The experience of Damascus transfigured Saul into Paul, he became a new person capable of supernatural love that flows from the grace every Christian receives when he joins the Christian family. Hence, there is neither gentile nor Jew, neither circumcised nor uncircumcised, neither HIV-positive nor HIV-free, we all belong to Christ. The transfigured Paul was able to consider the weak, young and timid Timothy as a beloved brother in Christ, to treat him with love and deep respect. Paul accepted Timothy’s weaknesses and supported him in his ministry as head of the Christian community at Ephesus. In a community of love, the weak members have a claim on us, they should be subjects of our concern. Paul stands as an example of this concern.

The Gospel talks about the transfiguration of Jesus. We are on the sixth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a great popular demonstration in which the expectation of the Messiah is at its height. Around the Temple of Jerusalem, people are building shelters where they plan to stay. But Jesus leaves the crowd to go and live this feast in his own way, in a solitary place. Nonetheless, he is the awaited Messiah, as evidenced by the appearance of Moses and Elijah by his side. He is the messenger of God, the glory of God covers him, and the Father recognizes him as his beloved Son. It is indeed in Messianic hope that Peter suggests building three shelters. However, Peter has yet to learn how the Messiah must suffer and be put to death. It is only after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that the power of his saving love will appear with all its might.

Just as Saul was transfigured into Paul, Jesus of Nazareth is transfigured into the cosmic Christ. The transfiguration of Jesus is our own transfiguration, into what we are ultimately called to become, if we follow him on the way to Jerusalem like Bartimeaus and Paul did. We will then embrace values that allow us to see others differently. False and undermining judgments will no longer form part of our horizon of values. It doesn’t matter whether one is ‘righteous’ or not; what matters is to share the love of Christ with him or her.

The transfiguration of Christ ultimately challenges us, as Christians, to change the way we look at people. Very often people living with HIV are stigmatized. Stigmatizing behaviour leads to division between the good and the bad, between ‘us and them’, at a time when we need to join hands to fight a pandemic that has claimed countless lives. We should let the way we look at people be modelled on the way Paul looks at Timothy as a beloved brother in Christ. With such love, moralistic judgment that tends to assign the responsibility for infection to individual misbehaviour appears as unnecessary and useless. What matters is the expression of love that people living with HIV deserve as individuals created in the image and likeness of our loving God.

However, to be able to love truly, we need to free ourselves from prejudices. The transfiguration of the man of Nazareth is a call to self-transcendance, to go beyond moralism to see the manifestation of the glory of God in the life of every single individual I meet on my way, no matter his or her serological status.

To read this article in French, please go here.

To read the earlier articles in this series, please go here.

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