Jesus took Peter, John, and James to the top of a high mountain where they experience their Lord transfigured in divine glory; the Father’s voice from heaven, indicating divine favor and approval of Jesus, and the presence of Moses and Elijah. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”(Matthew 17: 2 ESV) The experience was a hint of Christ’s future heavenly glory and our participation in it.
Without a compelling vision of the transcendent God we beings who seek meaning in our lives will languish in our sins and the senselessness of life. Beset by the problem of mortality, the essential and central problem of human life, we, by ourselves as autonomous beings, can not describe a meaningful existence. This last statement, of course, can be and is contested. Yes, indeed, we can find meaning within the confines of our present brief stay on earth. We can bravely persevere the negatives of our life; we can work toward the establishment of utopia; we can overcome humanity’s enemies; we can extend life; in fact, we ourselves are gods. Though we did not choose to be born and though we ourselves do not create from nothing, we can fill the emptiness and void that threaten us. Or, we can adapt nihilism into our own emotional life and despair while doing the best we can to love those around us and hold them dear during our brief journey on the planet and contribute something to the improvement of humanity.
Arguments of this sort will be used by atheists and secularists to defend their perspective. They will accuse the faithful of being deceived, ignorant, weak, emotionally ill, and so on. Religious belief is the crutch of the weak,” one might hear in some form. Accompanying such attitudes may be a criticism of the church about its failures now and in the past. “The crusades show the harm the church has introduced into history.” This comment is usually asserted without the person knowing anything about the crusades. Knowledge of the subject is not required with this “sound bite.”
The Christian witness and apologist needs to become acquainted with the concerns and criticisms of the secular opponent. But in addition, we must be aware that atheists also wrestle and struggle with making sense out of life and seek a vision of what life means. We must acquire patience in our conversation with those who do not believe. We must commit ourselves to a positive engagement with the world while always remembering the vision that we share of the Triune God.
Matthew 13 contains a number of parables that briefly describe the vision. In “The Parable of the Sower” though much seed fails to be productive, some seed produces a huge crop. The sower’s seed will have no transformative results among many. Because of lack of understanding, persecution, and the cares of the world and riches, many individuals will not receive the Gospel of the kingdom. But, a rich harvest is insured from those who do receive the Word. In “The Parable of the Mustard Seed” a small insignificant item becomes the greatest of trees. Such is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom that now seems so insignificant among worldly things becomes a great and mighty thing. And so, the church prays, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” until the end of time.
We are called to share the vision of God with others, those who are “harrassed and helpless., like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9: 36 ESV) Few laborers work in the harvest. Jesus says to the disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9: 37 ESV) Jesus’ observation is also a command to those who hear Him to go forth and preach the message of the Gospel of the kingdom. In the very next chapter Jesus sends out His little band to Israel to do just that. Later, they will go forth to the nations of the earth.
Jesus calls His disciples, then and now, to a mission and ministry of reaching out to the nations with the message of the kingdom. This task continues until the turn of the age into the age to come. Our defense of and witness to the faith are a part of the worldwide effort to bring people into the kingdom so that we may stand forever with all the faithful in the presence of God.
MIchael G. Tavella
January 9, 2019