It Is Good That We Are Here

August 2, 2017 - 9:47am
Reflections for the Feast of the Transfiguration

All four of today’s Scripture readings focus on the glory and majesty of Jesus as king.

His glorious kingship is foretold by the prophet Daniel in the vision he receives of “one like a Son of man” receiving an everlasting dominion from God, the “Ancient One.” In the Responsorial Psalm we sing to our Lord who is king over all the earth. In the second letter of St. Peter, we actually get a firsthand account from Peter of what we will hear about again in the Gospel reading from St. Matthew—the glory and majesty that Peter witnessed on the Mount of the Transfiguration.

Together all of these Scripture passages point toward the divinity of Jesus Christ, one of the most important points of our faith as Christians. This key doctrine is also a great mystery: How can Jesus be fully God and fully man? What does that mean? How well do we understand this claim? Can we explain it and defend it?

These are all important questions and great topics for further study— but today we step aside from our struggle to understand and seek to just be with God. The Transfiguration was a moment of glory and strength before the scandal and horror of the Cross. As you explore today’s readings and discussions, remember that even when we don’t fully understand, it is good that we are here with God. Understanding, courage, and all the rest will follow. Rest in his love.


First Reading

I saw one like a Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14).


In this prophetic vision, received  by  the Prophet Daniel, we see what is usually interpreted as an eschatological scene, that is, one having to do with the end of the world at the time of Christ’s Second Coming. In it we see “one like a Son of man” receive “dominion, glory, and kingship” from “the Ancient One.” Daniel, because of his purity and commitment to God’s covenant, is given wisdom and prophetic insight into the mysteries of God’s plan. Jesus identifies himself with Daniel’s vision in Matthew 24:30 when he says about his Second Coming: “Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  


Second Reading

Be attentive to the prophetic message, as to a lamp shining in a dark place (2 Peter 1:16-19).


This Second Reading presents us with a relatively rare occurrence in the New Testament. In it, St. Peter corroborates an event recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. None of those three were eyewitnesses to the event to which only Sts. Peter, James, and John were privy. Here Peter says, essentially, “Yes, this did happen.” And he uses his own experience of that event to assert, more generally, that the Gospel is not a collection of “cleverly devised myths.” His immediate experience of the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor is also a source of guarantee that his own ministry, received as direct mission from Jesus himself, includes a “prophetic message that is altogether reliable.”

As the first pope and the “Rock” upon which Christ built his Church, this also represents a guarantee of the reliability of the Faith we receive through this same Church in our own day. This Faith is still for us “a lamp shining in a dark place.” It isn’t inappropriate to think that in some ways, the darkness of our day is a little thicker than St. Peter would have experienced in the first century of Christianity. Later in this same letter he warns that “scoffers will come the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’” In our day scoffing has become the primary aim of elite culture. The claims of Christianity are disputed everywhere. As St. Paul said, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).


Gospel Reading

Jesus was transfigured, and his clothes became white as light (Matthew 17:1-9).


The event recounted in this passage from Matthew takes place, scholars tell us, on the feast of Tabernacles in the Jewish festival calendar, which is both a harvest festival and a celebration of the giving of the Mosaic Law on Mount Sinai. Recognizing that fact helps us to see a little more deeply into this mysterious scene. When Moses went up to receive the Law, he took with him three Levites—Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu—who would all serve in the priestly office in the Jewish liturgies. Jesus, likewise, takes three priestly figures with him up Mount Tabor—Peter, James, and John. Moses and these others “beheld God” on Sinai (Exodus 24:11) and Moses also beholds God now on Mount Tabor in the Person of Jesus Christ. Moses’ presence on this other mountain makes clear to us that, not only is Jesus the same God seen on Sinai, as the revelation of his glory makes clear, but that he is also the new Law Giver, a new Moses in his humanity.

The presence of Elijah the Prophet, who also encountered God on Mount Sinai (called Horeb), indicates that Jesus is the fulfillment of all prophecy and the ultimate prophet and the bearer of a new teaching, and so the voice of the Father insists that we must “listen to him.” All these signs, the presence of these two figures from the Old Covenant, the bright cloud, and the divine voice, fill the three Apostles with awe and they can’t help but cast themselves on the ground in adoration. They now see, to fortify them in the trials of his coming Passion, the full glory of Christ’s divine Sonship. St. John, who is the only one of the Gospel writers not to include this event, may have still have been in awe of it when, now decades later, he says in the Prologue to his Gospel, “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).


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