I am sitting in Specsavers Opticians in Weymouth waiting for Julia. She is having her eyes tested. I am anticipating a big bill for new spectacles. There is nothing wrong with her eyesight, although she does wear spectacles for reading, but she got a letter through the post offering her an eye test for only £5 and Julia has never been one to resist a ‘bargain’. The eye test itself may only be a fiver but they are not daft, these people. They know how to ‘use a sprat to catch a mackerel’ … and Julia used to be in the fish business?!
While I am sitting here I am reflecting on our recent visit to the Holy Land and, since I am in an opticians, I am thinking especially about the time we spent on the top of Mount Tabor – where the Transfiguration of Jesus possibly took place. I am thinking of the cartel that prevents pilgrims and tourists alike from driving to the top of the mountain deliberately necessitating the use of an expensive taxi system to complete the journey. I am thinking about that crazy journey, at breakneck speed up the mountain to the summit, with our taxi driver holding his mobile phone in one hand as he chatted away nonstop and the steering wheel in the other, as he negotiated the steep, tight bends. At least last time we did this same journey eight years ago, the taxi driver cartel used great big Mercedes taxis built like army tanks, which made the journey fun. This time the Mercedes taxis are all gone and we are all ferried up the mountain in a fleet of minibuses. I am thinking of the fascinating Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration on the summit of Mount Tabor, and the beautiful gardens surrounding it with its quiet places to sit and prayerfully meditate, and the viewing platform with its amazing views over the surrounding countryside.
Most of all I am reflecting on what happened, possibly right here on this very spot, 2000 years ago before these buildings and gardens and viewing platform were built. I am thinking about an event, recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, in which Jesus was ‘transfigured’ or ‘transformed’ in such a way that his divinity shone through his humanity (Matthew 11:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). Perhaps for the first time, the disciples who are with Jesus on this occasion – Peter, James and John – recognise who Jesus really is! This incident – which involves the appearance of Moses and Elijah (the two preeminent figures of Judaism) together with a voice from heaven confirming that Jesus himself is indeed the Son of God – shakes up the disciples. One would like to think that this incident transformed the disciples but it becomes clear, as the story unfolds, that they still have a long way to travel on their faith journey. Nevertheless the Transfiguration is seen as a pivotal moment, and the setting on the mountain as the point, where human nature meets God – the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, the bridge between heaven and earth.
As I am sitting here in Specsavers Opticians, thinking subliminally about the value of having clear vision, reflecting on the effect that the Transfiguration must have had on those first disciples and what this means for me, pondering those two vitally important theological questions: ‘What kind of God?’ and ‘So what?’, I suddenly become aware of a conversation that is going on right next to me between another optician and a man and his wife. The man’s eye test has thrown up a problem. He is suffering from a loss of vision and now has to go to the eye hospital for a more thorough examination. Apparently he has had a steady degeneration of vision over several months, but being a ‘man’ he didn’t bother to say or do anything about it – he just ‘soldiered on’!? It was his wife who noticed it. At first she said nothing, not wanting to upset her husband, but in the end she could keep quiet no longer. She is the one who made her husband do something about it – which is why he is here at the opticians. The optician is quite positive. The problem is serious, if it had been allowed to continue it could have led to blindness, but they have caught it in time. With corrective treatment now, clear vision can be restored and renewed!
The relieved couple leave the shop, the optician returns to his consulting room, and I am left sitting reflecting on the story I have just overheard, and the way it uncannily fits into my reflection on our time at Mount Tabor, and the Transfiguration, and the significance of what the disciples saw. It leaves me with various questions: How do I see Jesus? How does this affect my life? Is my vision as sharp and as focussed as it should be? Are there new things that God wants me to see that I am not seeing because … well because I am a ‘man’ and ‘soldiering on’ in my own way?
I am still reflecting on all these things when Julia returns from her eye examination. Of course, according to the optician, she does need new spectacles – not for distance, not for reading, but for watching TV – whatever will they come up with next?! We fall about laughing and go for a coffee – we have the new eye prescription – and we can get a new pair of spectacles from ‘Specs-by-Post’ for a fraction of the price!