My nephew Andy has autism. When he was young, he would frequently get fixated on a topic and ask the same questions over and over. For example, if the family was planning a trip, he would ask: When will we get there? What will we do when we get there? What will people say to us? Will we have a good time? These questions are valid, but after he repeated them eight or 10 times, they could be trying. His mother, Mary Ann, was so patient. I admired how she could continually answer in a pleasant voice. Even when the questions finally drove her crazy, she would simply say, “Enough, Andy. I answered that already.”
Andy’s situation shines a light on that way we all seek reassurances. For myself, I need regular assurances that the people who love me still love me. Blame it on my personality type — this is a common area of anxiety for people who are Intuitive-Feelers on the Myers-Briggs personality indicator — or on a history of broken relationships, but it is real for me. My poor husband! His love for me is as sure as the sunrise, yet I bug him all the time to declare it. Other people may worry about finances, others their status; still others need to be reassured that they have the stamina to make it through a project or an illness. In all these cases, our minds create alternative scenarios of loss or failure or we simply fail to hold onto the vision of the destination. It seems to be part of human nature that we need reassurances.
God understands this about us and is more than willing to provide them. The first reading from Genesis is one example. The story of Abram and Sarai began when God called them to leave everything and go to a foreign land. God promised to make of them a great nation. Despite Abram being 75 years old, they went. Years passed; things went well economically, politically and spiritually for them. In a conversation between God and Abram, God pointed this out. Abram agreed but noted that there were still no children. [This Sunday’s] passage enters the story at this point. God reassures Abram that what has been promised will come to pass. “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be” says the Lord God. “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.” Still Abram needs reassurance. “How am I to know that I am to possess it?” he asks. I read this and think, “God is talking to you, buddy, and you still doubt it?!” but this is our human nature. So God enacts a formal ceremony that was commonly done at the time to seal a contract between two parties. Two things make it remarkable though: First Abram falls into a trance. The “deep terrifying darkness” is the same Hebrew word, “ecstasy,” which God puts Adam in to create Eve. It has the sense of being outside yourself and totally united with the divine in a way that is beyond comprehension and description. The second unusual thing about this contract is that only God passes through the animal parts. Usually both parties did so as a way of saying, “Let me be cut in two if I fail to meet my part of the bargain.” Yet, God does not need our reassurance. I like to think this means God trusts us because we have already committed, but Abram stumbles in other parts of his story, as do we. I see this as a statement that God is committed to us, even without our commitment.
This week’s second story of reassurance is the gospel passage, commonly called the Transfiguration, where the glory of Jesus is revealed on an ordinary day during his ministry. This even occurs in Luke just after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death and his declaration that the same fate awaits his disciples. Denying themselves and taking up their crosses daily must have sounded as grim to them as it does to us. Why should we? Is it worth it? Even though the disciples had seen the great power of Jesus many times, as we have, the cost of discipleship still looked steep. So, Jesus reassures them. He reveals himself as dazzling, as an equal to Moses and Elijah, who represent the whole of God’s revelation to the Jewish people, as one who will accomplish an Exodus, a great saving act, literally in Greek a “way out” of suffering. The cloud that in the days of Moses was God’s presence among the people engulfs Jesus, his guests and the disciples and God says “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Have no doubt, disciples everywhere and in all times, this is the person to follow! What’s more, Jesus is the one to follow now, before the passion and resurrection, because the power of God already is. That is the great mystery of God’s Kingdom: it is not yet here, so we suffer AND it has already come. We are already saved and safe. The battle has already been won, because it never was really lost. And God never tires of reassuring us of this truth.
- Where do you struggle with uncertainty? What would you be like if you could lose this anxiety? How can God reassure you that all is well?
- How is God reassuring you today in your ordinary life?