August 6, 2017 — Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. According to most Catholic scholars and theologians, the Transfiguration is the culminating point of the Lord’s public life. His Baptism is considered to be the starting point of that public life, and the Ascension is the end. Our Gospel Reading today, which reports this event, is from the Book of Matthew. However, the Transfiguration is also reported in Mark and Luke, and St. Peter makes reference to it in one of his letters, and by St. John as well.
It is natural that Peter and John would allude to the Transfiguration as they (along with St. James) witnessed it. Jesus took the three Apostles and led them to a “high mountain” where He was transfigured before their eyes. The mountain is never directly identified, but tradition has ascertained it to be Mt. Thabor. Of course, it is not the mountain but what occurred there that is important. In the original Greek from today’s Gospel St. Matthew uses the Greek word metemorphe (μεταμορφόω) to describe the Transfiguration. It means “a complete change of form, structure, or substance.” Most of us are familiar with the term metamorphosis, the word used to describe what occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
However, the Transfiguration is something beyond that. Jesus allows the three Apostles who were present (as well as those of us who hear the Word) to view what eternal life in heaven is like. Christ’s divinity is on full display. To use Matthew’s words, “His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light.”
Our First Reading from the Book of Daniel contains almost exactly the same description as that found in the Gospel. The prophet Daniel describes what will occur as follows: “His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool.” As if that prophecy was not enough, Daniel takes it to the next step by going on to say, “One like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven.”
The term Son of Man is one that Jesus was most likely to use in indication of Himself. Seeing it in a prophecy, and especially one which is so clearly the Transfiguration merely more closely associates Jesus with the Transfiguration which is to come and described so perfectly in the New Testament.
In our Second Reading from St. Peter’s Second Letter the Apostle Peter also alludes to the Transfiguration. Peter writes, “…we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty…when that unique declaration came to him from majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him (Jesus) on the holy mountain.”
Those words from God are reported quite accurately in our Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, but this is Peter repeating them. You can almost sense Peter remembering the experience clearly. At the time Peter mistakenly placed Jesus as an equal to Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration, and this was the way God made it quite plain to Peter that this was not the case. This may have been a rebuke to Peter, but now it is a valuable memory to him.
The Transfiguration was not a different miracle; it was part of an ongoing miracle. Perhaps the real miracle was that Jesus kept away from displaying His glory most of the time. When the three apostles present became aware of the full divinity of Jesus, it is reported that “They fell prostrate and were very much afraid.” Is that how we react when we become aware of the presence of God? Are we a bit fearful?
Knowing God, appreciating God, embracing God should give us confidence. God’s grace is amazing, and that needs to be our reality. Remember that Jesus is on His way to crucifixion and temporary death. We are on that same path, but the Transfiguration is a reminder to us of the hope we have in the saving grace of the Lord.