“The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’
He said in reply, ‘Elijah will indeed come and restore all things …’” (Mt 17:10-11)
Jesus is often enigmatic. In today’s Gospel, he does not directly answer the “why” question of the disciples. After experiencing the powerful transfiguration of Jesus, they impatiently questioned about the expected return of Elijah before the “day of the Lord” (Mal 3:23). It is as if they were asking, can’t we just skip the difficult intermediary stage and get to the prize already? Instead, Jesus readjusts their vision of a Messiah who emerges through suffering and patient hope before manifesting power and might.
Much to my chagrin, God never answers the “why” questions that I pose. Why do the people in the Philippines suffer? Why do such young people have to die so young of diseases? I often forget that in the spiritual life, something lesser has to die for something greater to emerge. Like a caterpillar dying to its worm-like life to be transformed into a butterfly. Like a baby leaving the inner world of its mother’s womb to become alive in the outer world. Although I try to be patient, I find myself caught up at times expecting instant results, easy answers, or quick fixes. I forget that fasting comes before feasting, that night precedes the dawn, that Christmas’ joy will be deeper by going through a mindful Advent.
St John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate today, composed mystical writings which depict one’s journey to God as a stripping away of false self and illusions as much as by experiences of joy. From his own sufferings inflicted by brothers from his own congregation, he encourages us to let God lead us mysteriously through the “dark night” of our experiences. Gradually, we will also experience the “dark gladness”. Listen to Loreena McKennitt’s interpretation of one of his a famous poems.
Help me, O Lord, to trust in your mysterious ways - that you seek what is best for us - and let go of my need for certainty and control.