On the mountain, there was a spectacle, an overwhelming spectacle. Jesus was transfigured. His clothes turned dazzlingly white. He was talking to two great men, Moses and Elijah. Peter, James and John were star-struck. Peter did not know what to say; he did not know what he was saying. There was a voice from the cloud. Then they fell silent, so dumbfounded that they did not tell anyone.
In the valley “when they had come down from the mountain the next day” (Lk. 9: 37-48), things were very different. Quite opposite from the majestic silence of the mountain, people were shouting in chaos. Shouts of fear, cries of pain. There was very sick boy convulsed, with twisted body and foaming mouth. He was possessed and torn by the devil, the father said, or by poverty and hunger – or all of them combined. Jesus cured him. And a few moments later, Jesus also talked about his own fears of dying. He was afraid that he will be killed one day by people whom he has offended by his stand on issues. His disciples did not cure the boy, nor did they listen to Jesus. They did not understand him. Because they did not care. Their concerns lie somewhere else: on who will get the senate seats!
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a transformative experience of light in the midst of darkness, of healing in the midst of pain, of glory in the midst of defeat, of life in the midst of death. It is a promise, a hope. Not empty promises nor false hopes. But real possibilities already coming to be when they have come down the mountain.
The apostles were actually tempted to stay. Peter proposed to build three tents. But Jesus did not let them. He even forbade them to say anything about what happened. He wanted them to come down the mountain and be the sense of hope in the midst of despair, to be the stillness in times of chaos, to be the truth in a world of lies.
Real life is in the valley, not on the mountaintop; in muddy rough grounds not on the clouds. That is where transfiguration lies.
But modern peoples like the illusion of spectacle on the mountain.
Already in 1967, a French philosopher Guy Debord once said that we have become a “society of spectacle.” We have forgotten real material life. We easily forget history. We live in contemplation of the immense accumulation of spectacles.
We now live by proxy of images and representation. We do not want to experience the beauty of the scene. We only take shots, upload it on Facebook and see it again for the first time. Some young people jokingly say, if it not on FB, it does not exist.
The spectacle is an inversion of life. Lived experience is turned into commodities which take on life by itself and dominate us. Real life dies and the manufactured image now occupies the center stage. We are hooked into the image 24/7. We like it. We believe it. We worship it.
Yet the spectacle domesticates the rebellion of the lived. We are effectively silenced and cowered into submission without our knowing. We are numbed into believing that what is “seemingly lived” is life itself. We forget that the system manufactures it for us, rendered it palatable for our consumption – those dominant systems in economy, culture and politics.
“The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived.” (Guy Debord)
Donald Trump of the United States, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil but also Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. They won because they were a dazzling spectacle. Following them, people are now entertained by Ronald Bato dela Rosa, Bong Go, Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, Freddie Aguilar, Harry Roque, Mocha Uson, Imee Marcos, and many others – all clowns and performers of “The Inday Sarah Show”.
People want the spectacle, the strobe lights, the performance, the grand show. Never mind honesty, human rights, track record or effective governance. We elect them because they are entertainers, cute or gwapo. Or they promise to change things for us in the shortest time possible without us doing anything.
Never mind misogyny or corruption. Forget civility or protection of national sovereignty. People do not come to rallies to discuss these issues, they say. They come to be entertained. So they gave them a good show, a spectacle of clowns and charlatans, of singers and dancers, of performers and magicians, on stage and in real life.
For what truly counts, they believe, is what you see under the spot light, on video walls and computer screens, on Twitter and Facebook – no matter how fake or twisted – regardless of their relation to history and reality.
But the Jesus’ transfiguration – and ours, too – is not a dazzling spectacle of commodified life. It is a truly liberating experience. And the transformation does not come about through grand promises inside clouds on mountain tops but on rough grounds, amidst cries of pain and hunger, in sighs of grief and loneliness, calling you and me to protracted but sustained action and everyday compassion. That in truth is transfiguration.
Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
St. St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University