Scripture: Lectionary # 25. Genesis 12:1-4. Psalm 33:4-5.18-19.20.22. II
Timothy 1:8-10. Matthew 17:1-9
Last Sunday we saw that Jesus was in the desert-- a symbolic place for the
roaming of demons. There Jesus was tempted by the Devil for a lengthy
period of time (forty days). Today the symbol of a mountain captures the
location of the transfiguration of Jesus. Peter, James and John are chosen
to go up the mountain with Jesus. Tradition places it on Mount Tabor a
rather low mount in comparison with the snow-capped mountain of Hermon or
even Carmel on the coast. The Scriptures do not give the name of the
mountain and it helps us to keep it more symbolically and within the
context of the contrast of the desert from the first Sunday in Lent.
Jesus is bathed in brilliant light which is the central point and far
outshines what happened to Moses on Mount Sinai or Elijah on the same
mountain. These two are on Jesus right and left. Matthew gives the
priority to Moses who represents the Torah and then to Elijah who is the
prophet who performs miracles. These are the "preeminent seers of God in
the Old Testament." (Benedict T. Viviano, In NJBC, p. 660). The three
tents help us think of the Feast of Tabernacles which occurs in Autumn.
The luminous cloud stands for the Presence of God or the shekinah, the
cloud of unknowing in which God appears saying "This is my Beloved Son in
whom I am well pleased. If we look at all of the references to the
Transfiguration in the Gospels we find that Jesus is seen as a Suffering
Servant, a prophet, a Wisdom figure, and as the Son of God. Jesus has come
to fulfill all that Moses and the prophets have promised.
The three disciples are stupified and they want to stay there by building
three tents (another symbol of the Feast of Tabernacles, the tent). Like
the disciples we have been led from the desert to this experience and in
the event we are drawn to prayer, perhaps, contemplative prayer. It is
ecstatic for the disciples and for us as we reflect upon the
transfiguration of Jesus. We move from the struggles in the desert with
temptation to the Lenten practice of prayer even contemplative prayer. The
mountain is the ideal place for such prayer. We try to listen to what Jesus
is dialoguing about with Moses and Elijah and come to realize the
Scriptures help us to think and ponder over the Torah and the Prophets and
how Jesus is fulfilling them.
We are aware that there are three tellings of the story plus a fourth that
is found in John in a more theological dimension ( Mark 9:2-10; Matthew
17:1-9; Luke 9:28-36; and John 12: 27-36). In II Peter we have even a
fifth reference to the transfiguration: "We did not follow cleverly devised
myths when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor
and glory from the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the
majestic glory,"This is my Son, my bleoved, with whom I am well pleased."
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on
the holy mountain." (II Peter 1:16-18).
This multiple attestation of the Transfiguration is thus presented in five
different sources in the New Testament. John, is alluding to it in a more
theological way in chapter 12 where Jesus is saying, "I am troubled now.
Yet, what should I say? Father, save me from this hour? But it was for
this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a
voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again."
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but other said, "An angel
has spoken to him." Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come for
my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the
ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the
earth, I will draw everyone to myself." He said this indicating the kind
of death he would die. So the crowd answered him, "We have heard from the
Law that the Messiah remains forever. Then how can you say the Son of Man
must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man? Jesus said to them, "The light
is among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so the
darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know
where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that
you may become children of the light." ( John 12: 27-36).
The Transfiguration is a call for us to be transformed into other
"Christs." We are to become transparent to God and to our fellow brothers
and sisters. Our lives are to be conformed to our transfigured Lord who is
the light, the way, and the truth. Lent offers us this time of transition
on this second Sunday to prepare us for the sufferings, death, and
crucifixion that Jesus will soon undergo for us. The mystery of the
Transfiguration is a prelude that leads us into his last days and the
Paschal Mystery. To do this we experience the light through our faith, we
enter the cloud of unknowing through our hope, and we come down the
mountain to be on the road to Calvary where our love meets that of Jesus.
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