Tag Archives: Transfiguration

6 August 2017: Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

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

Transfiguration: changing our view of ourselves and others

White_gold_banner_sm This week we interrupt Ordinary time readings to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. In Lent the Transfiguration readings foreshadow Jesus’ coming glory at Easter; today’s readings emphasize Jesus’ glory at his second coming (parousia).

In the first reading the prophet Daniel describes his eschatological, or end-time, vision. For Jewish hearers, Daniel offers the consolation that God will bring about their victory over their oppressors. Christian hearers recognize Daniel’s promised “son of man” as Jesus, who will fully establish God’s kingdom when he returns. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with the gospel because of its parallels to the Transfiguration, including brightness (Mt 17:2), the clouds (Mt 17:5), and Jesus’ self-identification as “the son of man” (Mt 17:9).

In the second reading the author of 2 Peter gives his final message and advice. Scripture scholars place this letter’s composition around 135AD, making it the last written text of the canonical Christian scriptures. The author assures his hearers that Peter’s apostolic message is reliable because he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ glory (the Transfiguration) and he received the prophetic message (Jesus’ teachings). The author documents Peter’s experience to preserve the historical facts about Jesus’ life and teachings, and to capture the truths of the faith until Jesus returns.

In the gospel, Matthew describes Jesus’ physical transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. The Transfiguration story is full of scriptural references:

  • The mountain. In Hebrew scripture, God always appears to humans on a mountain (for example: Abraham, Gn 22; Moses, Ex 3; Elijah, 1Kgs 19). By placing Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain, Matthew is telling us that Peter, James, and John are about to encounter God.
  • Moses and Elijah. In Hebrew scripture, Moses, who received the commandments from God (Ex 19), represents the Law; and Elijah, one of Israel’s great prophets, represents all the prophets. First-century Jewish tradition stated that both Moses and Elijah would return to announce and to welcome the messiah and God’s kingdom. By placing Moses and Elijah on the mountain in conversation with Jesus; Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, he is the messiah, and God’s kingdom is near.
  • The cloud. In Hebrew scripture, a cloud indicates God’s presence among the people (for example, the pillar of cloud, Ex 13:21-22; surrounding the ark, Ex 4-:34-36; filling the Temple, Is 6:4). By surrounding Peter, James, and John with a cloud, Matthew is telling us that they will experience God’s presence.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on the Transfiguration as a glimpse of future resurrection and parousia. But the Transfiguration has a message for us right now. Every day we see other people transfigured, and we ourselves are transfigured. We encounter someone whose words or actions make us see them differently. Or we have our own “mountaintop experience” that transforms our understanding of ourselves or our world. The Transfiguration did not permanently change Jesus, but it did permanently change Peter, James, and John. Are we open to God’s presence and the change it brings? Do everyday transfigurations transform our relationship with God and others? Is God well pleased with our words and actions?

—Terence Sherlock

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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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