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6 August 2017 (A) The Transfiguration of the Lord

  1. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Feast Day Readings)
  2. Reflection & Dialogue: Transfigured in Christ. Confirmed in the faith.
  3. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Feast Day Readings)

First Reading (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14). His robe was white as snow. The Book of Daniel was composed to comfort and strengthen the faith of believers in the God of Israel during the terrible persecution of the Greek king Antiochus IV who was determined the replace the worship the God of Israel by that of his own pagan gods. Through a series of court stories the first part of the book (chapters 1-6) tells of God’s providence towards his faithful servants in the past. This is followed by heavenly visions Daniel had of the destruction of the pagan empires, including the current Greek one (chapters 7-12). The most important of these is chapter seven which begins with a vision of the destruction of four pagan empires, represented as beasts a rising from the great sea, the final one being the Greek. This is immediately followed by today’s reading, the most important of them all, with Daniel’s vision of a judgment scene of God, represented as “an Ancient One” (literally “an Ancient of Days”), who has seen the entire course of history and the rise and fall of empires. His clothing was white as snow. Three is a vivid description of the awesome nature of his throne. This heavenly court sat in judgment. Daniel saw one like a human being (literally “a son of man”) coming to the Ancient of Day and being presented before him. Since the “one like a on of man coming on the clouds of heaven” is in contrast to the four beasts arising from the great sea, symbols for the kingdoms being rejected, it seems that here the “one like a son of man” (a human” is a symbol for God’s persecuted Jewish people. He has conferred on him by God sovereignty, glory and kingship, taken from the other kingdoms. The consoling message of this for the persecuted people was that the power of the persecutor would be taken from him. This took place soon after this vision with the death of Antiochus as he tried to pillage a temple in ther east and his work against the Jewish religion was undone.

            However, this reading is not hosen for today’s liturgy to recall these historical events, but by reason of the description of the glorious apparition of them divinity, the “Ancient of Days”, and the dignity bestowed on the “one like a son of man”. In the New Testament the Son of Man is a title of Jesus, used particularly in texts referring to his passion and his coming in judgment. The “one like a son of man” of this text of the Book of Daniel was also considered to refer to Jesus, and the glory and kingship conferred on him by God, “the Ancient of Days”.

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Responsorial Psalm (Ps 96[97]). The Lord is king, most high above all the earth.

Second Reading (2 Peter 1:16-19). We heard this ourselves, spoken from heaven. In this reading the author is writing as the apostle, with the authority of Peter, an eyewitness of the transfiguration. He gives the essential elements of the Synoptic Gospel account of the transfiguration, a prophecy of Jesus’ final coming: a holy mountain, apostolic witnesses, with Peter himself in particular, Jesus’ glorious appearance, God’s glorious presence, and God’s proclamation regarding Jesus: “This is my beloved Son”. He lay stress on the fact that he was a witness of this event, and as a result, he continues, “we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed”. The prophetic message intended may be the message of the Old Testament prophecies, or even the Law and the Prophets, to which Moses and Elijah present at the transfiguration bore witness. Or it may be that the prophetic message is the transfiguration itself, which is connected with Jesus’ second coming in Mark 9:1: “Truly. I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until the see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (or: “before they see the Son of Man Coming in his kingdom”, Matthew 16:28). One of the problems the author of this letter confronts is the view of some, whom he calls scoffers, who regard this promise of the immediate coming of Jesus’ coming as nonsense (2 Peter 3:1-10). His point would be that the transfiguration confirms all the more this prophecy of his coming. He reminds his readers, and readers of all times, that they would do well to be attentive to this as a lamp shining in a dark place, in the uncertainties of human existence, while waiting for the final light, the morning star, with Christ’s coming.

Gospel (Matthew 17:1-9). His face shone like the sun. This text of the Gospel on the transfiguration of Christ comes after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ), and after Jesus had predicted his coming passion, to be followed by his resurrection. He led his three special apostles, Peter, James and his brother John, up a high mountain apart. We are not told the name of the mountain, which may have been Hermon rather than Tabor, being nearer Caesarea. Jesus’ transfiguration, in his features and clothing, would have been a prefiguring of the glory that would be his at the resurrection. The three apostles saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. These two were witnesses or representatives of Israel’s sacred history, summed up in the Law and the Prophets, witnesses to God’s dealing his chosen people through the ages. Everything that Moses (the Law) and the Prophets (Elijah) stood for would be fulfilled by Christ, in his death and resurrection. The chief agents and witnesses to this divine plan of salvation, God, Jesus, Moses, |Elijah and the apostles, were present on that mountain. In keeping with biblical history, the cloud was a sign and a symbol of the divine presence. In a sense it represents the same as the heaven opened at Jesus’ baptism. And as the baptism, a voice, that of the Father, announces that Jesus is his beloved Son, but with the added words: “Listen to him”. The apostles, and the Church down through the centuries, will bear witness to that glory of Jesus, to the transfiguration of his person, and to the glory that comes from him to believers, and will always be there to the eyes of faith.

  1. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day. Transfigured in Christ. Confirmed in the faith.

The church in her liturgy celebrates a feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord today on August 6. This mystery is also recalled in the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, Calvary and the resurrection on Easter morning.             Biblical and Jewish tradition looked forward to the transfiguration of the bodies of the just in the world to come, a faith shared by the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 15:40-44; 2 Corinthians 3:18). This transformation was already taking place on earth, where under the influence of the Spirit of the risen Lord believers are being transformed into the image of the Lord Jesus, from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). Believers in Christ should offer a spiritual sacrifice of a Christian life to God, by not conforming to this world but by being transformed by the renewal of their minds (Romans 12:2).

            At the original Transfiguration of Christ on the holy mountain, neither Peter nor the two others seem to have understood the significance of the event. They appear to have received no inner experience, vision or enlightenment. They did not know what to say, nor quite understand what Jesus’ words about “rising from the dead” meant. This was before the resurrection and the appearances of the risen Lord. It seems to have been different with Paul and his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road. Writing to the Corinthians on the experience of Christian faith, and the apostles’ mission to proclaim not themselves but the Lord Jesus, Paul writes: “For its is the God who said, ‘Let light shine ut of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Paul had got that vision of the glory of God revealed in the face of the Lord Jesus at the initial encounter. It gave him the certainty of faith on a number of issues: of the glory of the risen Jesus, the Lord, at the right hand of the Father; of Christ as fulfilment of the Scriptures, of God’s promises to his people. Christ is God’s Amen to all the promises. In him every one of the promises is a “Yes”, an Amen (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). The encounter with Christ gave him certainty about his own mission and assurance that God gives certainty and the same vision of faith to all believers.

            Peter, too, must have come to the same understanding of the significance of that initial Transfiguration scene later. As he is about to pass from this world, the writer of the Second Letter of Peter, in the name of Peter, reminds his readers of earlier mysteries. He writes in today’s second reading (2 Peter 1:16-18). That event gives the apostles and the church confidence to speak with courage, and the need of honesty and transparency in their mission.

            As was the case with Paul, on seeing the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus, it also gave certainty that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, Prophets and Law, represented by Elijah and Moses on the Mount. 2 Peter continues in 2 Peter 1:19-21: “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed”, followed by the text so central to the place of Scripture in the Church: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

            The readings for the transfiguration scene give us all a message and a call for our own day -- to be confirmed in the faith of Christ. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son for us (a mystery prefigured by Abraham and Isaac) to show his love and commitment to each one of us. The Transfiguration is a mystery for us too, to see the place of Scripture in our life. All Scripture is inspired by the Spirit of God; it links us with the past and confirms us in the faith for any difficulties in the present.