February 6, 2005 - Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-9

17  1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. Jesus' appearance was changed before them: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became bright as light. Just then Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus.

Peter spoke and said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. If you so wish, I will make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

Peter was still speaking when a bright cloud covered them in its shadow, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, my Chosen One. Listen to him."

On hearing the voice, the disciples fell to the ground, full of fear. But Jesus came, touched them and said, "Stand up, do not be afraid." When they raised their eyes, they no longer saw anyone except Jesus. And as they came down the mountain, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone what they had just seen, until the Son of Man be raised from the dead.

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•       17.1 See commentaries on Mark 9:2 and Luke 9:28.

•        Mark 9.1 The transfiguration of Jesus is the mid­point of Mark's Gospel.

This manifestation is in fact one of the most important in the New Testament. In the liturgy of oriental Churches, the feast of the Transfiguration holds a place of supreme importance.

Though not the summit, it is in fact the summary of all revelation. Moses and Elijah, the spokesmen of the Law and the Prophets (in a word, of all the Old Testament) present the Christ of the Gospel to the apostles Peter, James and John, those who will be responsible for the preaching of the Gospel.

As Moses and Elijah were led by God to the Holy Mountain, to witness his glory (Ex 33:18; 1 K 19:9), so the apostles are led apart by Jesus; they too climb the mountain and there Jesus manifests his glory to them.

Jesus had just announced his passion and his death: the day had come when the Father confirmed his end that was very near (Lk 9:31) and gave him a foretaste of his resurrection. Moses and Elijah were the witnesses, they who, in a certain way, escaped the corruption of death (Dt 34:6; 2 K 2:11).

A cloud formed covering them in a shadow. The cloud mentioned here is that which, in several episodes of the Bible, both indicates and hides the mysterious presence of God (Ex 19 and 1 K 8:10).

Listen to him! (v. 7). The apostles have been accompanying Jesus for more than a year, with misunderstanding increasing between him and

the religious authorities of the people of God. For them a question could arise: Is not Jesus mistaken? Are not the certitudes of God's people on the side of the priests and scribes?

The Father himself intervenes, just as he had done in the past for John the Baptist: Listen to him! "Listen to him for he is the Word made flesh" (Jn 1:14; Heb 1:1). He is the Prophet, and all the others speak only for him (Dt 18:17).

When Jesus worked miracles for the sick, and over the forces of nature, he showed that the present order of the world is not permanent. Now the curtains are partially opened: would that the apostles understood that the Son of Man, as Jesus calls himself, is close to his resurrection. In a little while his fellow citizens will hang him on a cross. In a little while, too, the Father will give him the Glory that awaits him. The shining cloud, the dazzling white clothes are external signs that indicate something of the mystery of Jesus: the day he rises from among the dead, his human nature will be transformed and extended by divine Energies, so that he may fill everything in everyone.

[The Community Christian Bible]

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 1. Connections with our spiritual ancestors brightens us. We won't be plowing the same ground they did, using the same methods in a different situation, but being about the same work in a new way. Elijah, Moses, and Jesus all escape a final resting place where veneration can trap people into repeating methods rather than advancing mission.

2. For us today to be visited by Elijah, Moses, Jesus, Peter, Luther, Wesley, etc. brightens our life and we are freed from mere veneration to building from them to even greater heights. So we are called to stand-up, be a peace, invest our lives in such a way that we will be a catalyst to new growth in the lives of others. May our life far outshine our resting place.

3. How might you express your love of one of our spiritual ancestors? Peter suggests the building of holy space. Jesus counters with, "Stand up, do not be afraid."

One difference between these approaches might be our relationship to ourselves. Peter's building would undoubtedly say more about his architectural sensibilities than about Jesus. (A novel raising questions in this arena is William Golding's, The Spire.) To build would be to construct a mirror of one's self. To stand up, unafraid, would be to construct a life for self and others, God and Neighbor (contrary to Ayn Rand's contention).

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