It’s that time of year again. “The March of the Monarchs” has begun in earnest. Every spring around this time these beautiful butterflies begin their annual migration from Mexico to the United States and Canada, where they will engage in an ancient cycle of reproduction that will ultimately produce yet another generation of migrant Monarchs. It’s an astonishing feat, bordering on the miraculous. To think that these fragile insects have been equipped by their Maker to travel thousands of miles every year, instinctively following the same path taken by their ancestors for centuries, is mind-boggling to say the least.
As amazing as this is, the thing that I have always found most fascinating about the Monarchs is not their patterns of migration, but the process of transformation they must undergo to make the journey from caterpillar to butterfly. This process is known as “metamorphosis,” a term that finds its origins in the Greek verb, metamorphoo, meaning “to change from one form to another.” It’s the word that Matthew and Mark use to describe the “transfiguration” that Jesus experienced in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Mt 17:2; Mk 9:2). It’s also the same word that Paul uses to capture the dramatic change that takes place in each of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ when we allow Him to “transform” us into His very likeness (Rm 12:2; 2 Co 3:18).
There are many aspects of this transformational process known as metamorphosis that are noteworthy, especially during this Easter season, but these are the ones that immediately grab my attention:
- The caterpillar must die to its old self by becoming “entombed” in its chrysalis in order to enter into this process of transformation. It must be willing to leave its old, mundane caterpillar life behind if it hopes to move into a new and glorious life as a majestic butterfly (cf. Col 3:9-10).
- The developing butterfly must give the process the necessary time to complete its work. Any attempts to short-circuit this process will be disastrous. I should know. As a boy, in a naive but well-intended show of compassion, I decided to hasten a monarch’s escape from its painful struggle by cutting its chrysalis loose with a pair of scissors. I was horrified to discover that instead of helping the butterfly I ended up crippling it and cutting its life short. The very encumbrance I sought to remove was actually designed to serve as a critical component in the healthy development of the butterfly’s wings. I learned the hard way that the stress and strain of the struggle was a normal, necessary part of the mature butterfly’s growth and formation (cf. Ja 1:2-4).
- Even though their physical appearance is dramatically different, the pre-formational caterpillar shares the exact same DNA with the post-formational butterfly. The caterpillar was born to be a butterfly, with all of the necessary raw material in place, but it must be willing to submit to the transformational process in order to arrive at its glorious destination (cf. Rm 8:29).
So how’s your process of “metamorphosis” going these days?
Unlike the Monarch, which undergoes this dramatic transformation instinctively, we must choose to submit to this process voluntarily, by surrendering our will to the will of our Maker. By using the present, passive, imperative form of the Greek verb, metamorphoo, Paul would remind us that we must let God change us as we enter into the ongoing process of spiritual transformation: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Ro 12:2).
As we enter into the tomb, choosing to “die daily” to sin and to engage in an ongoing struggle against the stress and strain of this fallen world, we find over time that our lives increasingly bear a surprising resemblance to the glorious One who has created us in His own likeness: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Co 3:18).
And, best of all, when our time on this earth comes to an end, it is actually just the beginning of the most glorious stage in this entire process of metamorphosis, as we are finally, fully and eternally transformed into the very image of our risen Lord himself, “who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Php 3:21).
It’s amazing how much you can learn about Christian discipleship and spiritual formation from a few fragile, yet fascinating insects.