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 on August 6. This mystery is also recalled today, but 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 (2 Peter 1:16-18): “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘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 on the holy mountain.” 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. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 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.”
This Sunday readings and 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.