Father Donald Senior, CP

Aug 6: Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9; 2 Pt 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration — the extraordinary vision of Jesus exalted that dazzled his disciples on a mountain top in Galilee. This unique moment is found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. This Sunday’s version is from Matthew.

Many things converge here. It is as if the great saga of the Bible is compressed into an instant of time. The vision takes place on a “high mountain” where a “bright cloud” overshadows them, recalling the great encounter with God that Moses had on Mount Sinai. Gathered together are, in fact, Moses, the one who led the people out of slavery in Egypt, and Elijah, the greatest of the Israelite prophets.

Above all, the disciples glimpse Jesus in all his glory, an anticipation of the resurrection — his face “shining like the sun,” his clothing “white as light.” No wonder the three trusted disciples Jesus brought with him to the mountain — Peter, James and John — are dazzled. Peter offers to set up three “tents” or “tabernacles” to mark this sacred moment. But the purpose of the vision is not simply to reveal the divine glory that suffuses Jesus, the Son of God. This vision takes place at a key point in the Gospel story when Jesus and his disciples are about to take their fateful journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will be crucified, a prediction that Jesus had made to these disciples in the scene right before the transfiguration.

The point of the story comes with the voice of God who speaks from the luminous cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Jesus’ instruction to his disciples during the journey to Jerusalem will challenge them. He speaks of “losing one’s life in order to save it,” of leaving all to follow him; of having to “take up one’s cross;” of “serving rather than being served;” of forgiving “seven times seventy times.” The vision of Jesus triumphant over death anticipated in the Transfiguration can help the disciples absorb and overcome the challenges they would face upon his death.

Having a vision that guides our life is important. The prophet Habakkuk emphasized the need for a vision to ground our hope amid challenge. In a time of distress, the prophet wondered if God cared. At that moment, God tells the prophet to “write the vision; make it plain on tablets so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come.”

In fact, all of the readings for this Sunday speak of this sort of “vision” or big picture of our lives that sustain us. Where does life lead?

In our first reading the prophet Daniel sees a vision of “one like a Son of man” who will finally triumph over Israel’s enemies and bring a time of everlasting peace. The Gospels depict Jesus himself as this “Son of Man.”

The second reading from the Second Letter of Peter seems to look back on the moment of Transfiguration itself. The author recalls Peter’s presence on the holy mountain with the Lord. He remembers the prophetic message “that is altogether reliable” and describes a poetic vision of ultimate peace that is like “a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

What is the point here? Amid a world torn apart by violence and conflict and when our own lives may be in turmoil, we need to time to remember in prayer the full vision of life seen through the eyes of our Christian faith. This is God’s world. It will endure. We are God’s children. We will not be abandoned. We are destined for life, not death. This is the “vision” the Gospel holds out to us, “like a light shining in a dark place.”