Tag Archives: Transfiguration

12 March 2017: Second Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 12:1-4a Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 2 Tm 1:8b-10 Mt 17:1-9

Transfiguration: invited to be part of the story

Purple_banner_sm On the second Sunday in Lent–Transfiguration Sunday–the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider how God calls us and how such invitations can change us.

In the first reading, God calls Abram. God’s invitation marks the beginning of salvation history: God calls Abram and his descendants as the chosen people. Abram’s response allows God to enter into and to act in human history and allows Jesus, a descendant of Abram, to save all nations.

In the second reading from the second letter to Timothy, the author describes a Christian’s vocation–a “call to a holy calling.” God invites us to share in the grace and benefits of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection as God’s free gift to us; we have done nothing to deserve God’s invitation.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus appears transfigured. As a theological vision full of symbols, the transfiguration reveals Jesus as fulfillment of Hebrew scripture prophecies and hopes, divine Son, prophet, and messiah. The transfiguration includes the following actors:

  • Peter, James, and John. Jesus invites these three disciples, his inner circle, to witness his transfiguration. They are present for both this vision of Jesus’ revealed glory, and for  Jesus’ agony in the garden (Mt 26: 36-46). Some scholars see the transfiguration and Gethsemane as mirror stories, showing Jesus’ seeming conflicting divine glory and human struggle. Peter, James, and John represent us at both awe-full and bewildering occasions.
  • Moses and Elijah. Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) stand for the Hebrew scripture as the revealed word of God. Having Moses and Elijah present calls attention to their similarities with Jesus: Moses and Elijah worked miracles; fasted for forty days, were rejected by some of the chosen people; and encountered God on mountains. In Jewish tradition, Moses and Elijah have eschatological (end-time) roles: another prophet like Moses will appear (Dt 18:15-19); Elijah will return to announce the messiah (Mal 3: 23-25).
  • God the Father. The cloud that overshadows everyone announces God’s presence, as it did at Sinai (Ex 24:15) and the Jerusalem temple (1 Kgs 8:10-11). God repeats the words from Jesus’ baptism (Mt 3:17). God’s command–“Listen to him”–recalls God’s promise to raise up a prophet like Moses; the people should hear and follow him (Dt 18:15). Jesus is both God’s son and promised messiah. The words, like the vision, are for the disciples’ benefit, to strengthen them for Jesus’ coming passion and death.

As we progress through Lent, the Sunday readings proclaim the sweep of salvation history. In every time and generation, God invites humans to be part of something greater than themselves. Abram’s call set in motion God’s saving plan accomplished in Jesus. Today’s letter tells us that God calls each one to be part of God’s continuing saving story promised at the transfiguration. As disciples who have witnessed the resurrection, we understand the transfiguration as a vision of our own future glory promised by Jesus’ own resurrection. What is our role in God’s story? Where does God fit in our own story?

—Terence Sherlock

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21 February 2016: Second Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Gn 15:5-12, 17-18  Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14  Phil 3:17-4:1  Lk 9:28b-36

 

Transfiguration: God meets us; we are changed

On the second Sunday in Lent–Transfiguration Sunday–the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider how God meets us and how such meetings can change us.

The first reading, from Genesis, describes God and Abram’s meeting and covenant. Throughout the previous three books, God and Abram have been building a relationship. Finally “Abram puts his faith in the Lord” and he and God make a covenant together. God appears to Abram in smoke and fire to “pass between the pieces” of the sacrificed animals–that is, to “sign on the dotted line.” After this meeting Abram becomes Abraham, the father of nations, and his descendants inherit the promised land.

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, discusses citizenship and transformation. Philippi was a Roman colony (kolōnia, a settlement for retired Roman troops), and many Philippians were Roman citizens. Paul reminds the Philippian believing community that their real community and membership is with Christ, not with the Romans. It’s the Lord–not the Romans–who will “transform our lowly body,” into his glorious one. Paul uses the word μετασχηματίζω (meta-skay-mah-TIHd-zo), meaning “to transfigure, transform, or change;” this word connects the second reading to the gospel.

The gospel, Luke’s account of Jesus transfiguration, tells how Peter, James, and John understood a transformed Jesus and encountered God:

  • Overcome by sleep/now fully awake: In the first reading, Abram encounters God while “in a trance.” Luke describes the disciples first as “weighted down (with sleep)” and then suddenly “awakened thoroughly.” In the ancient world, visions and trances were common. Prophets like Isaiah (6:1-13), Jeremiah (1:11-19), and Ezekiel (1:4-28) write about meeting God in dreams, visions, ecstasy, trances, or other altered reality. Luke’s hearers understand the sleep/wake language as a prelude to an encounter with God.
  • Moses and Elijah: Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, are two important Hebrew scripture heroes who met God face-to-face. Both Moses and Elijah encountered God on a mountain (Horeb/Sinai). Luke places Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain surrounded by scripture heroes who have seen God.
  • The cloud and the voice: The phrase “cast a shadow” can also be translated “to envelop in a brilliant haze” or “to invest with supernatural influence.” In Hebrew scripture clouds, fire, and smoke often signal an encounter with God. God’s message–“This is my chosen son; listen to him”–is nearly identical to the words heard at Jesus’ baptism (Lk 3:22). God’s voice identifies Jesus as God’s son and chosen one (suffering servant), foreshadowing Jesus’ coming glory and his coming suffering.

The authors of today’s readings struggle with human words and ideas that describe and explain encounters with God. Such experiences change us and change the way we see the world. As with Abram, God meets us where we are. As our relationship with God grows and we journey in faith, we, like Paul, recognize where we belong, where we are citizens. As we encounter God daily–in others, in prayer, in sacraments–we are transformed. Are we open to meet God? Are we ready to be transfigured?

—Terence Sherlock

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