A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Transfigured in Christ. Confirmed in the faith.

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

Theme of reading: Transfiguration of Christ and of Christians

First Reading (Genesis 15:5-12. 17-18). God enters into a covenant with Abraham, the man of faith. When God called Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham) from Ur of the Chaldees, he promised that he would make of him a great nation, and that through him all the families of the earth would bless themselves (or be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3). Many years later, although Abram was still without a son or heir, God made the same promise to him. Abram believed the Lord and the Lord “reckoned it to him as righteousness”. Here the word “righteousness” probably refers to Abram’s state of soul, humbly accepting God’s promise despite the lack of any evidence in its favour, apart from God’s faithfulness that is. This is one of the major Old Testament texts. Paul uses it to illustrate that salvation comes through faith in Christ, not through the “works of the Law”. James (James 2:26) refers to it (with other texts) to illustrate that faith without good works is dead.

            The central theme of today’s reading is one of the most important texts of the Old Testament, speaking as it does of God’s covenant with Abram. As background to this covenant there are very old customs, one being the sacrifice of certain animals and the division of them in two parts, placing the divided part in two rows facing each other. The contracting parties walked between these two rows, the meaning being that if either party was unfaithful to the terms of the covenant and its oaths, that they would be cut in parts like the covenant animals. What the reference to the birds of prey means is not clear: probably enemies intent on destroying the covenant. In his deep mystical sleep Abram had a vision of God entering into the covenant (represented by the smoking fire pot and torch passing between the pieces). In this mystical sleep Abram would he received God’s promise of a glorious future from his seed (possession of land from the Nile to the Euphrates).

            In his vision on the covenant and the future of his seed in which all the nations of the earth would bless themselves, or be blessed (Genesis 22:18), a later religious reflection might include Abraham’s seed, the Messiah. In a dispute on Abraham’s role in their religion, Jesus told the Jews (John 8:56): “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad”. Jesus may have this text of Genesis and Abraham’s vision in mind.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 26[27]). The Lord is my light and my help

Second Reading (Philippians 3:17-4:1). Christ will transfigure our bodies into copies of his own glorious body. Earlier in the chapter from which the present text is taken, Paul puts the Philippian church on its guard against influences from outside the Christian community. He has also mentioned that he himself has given up everything for the sake of being faithful to Christ. He now implores them that all together they imitate him and his rule of life, and also all others who follow the Gospel message as he and others do. There is no question of pride on Paul’s part here. Now in tears he is forced to tell them that there are many who are far from doing this, and are actually enemies of the Cross of Christ. He must be thinking of persons within the Christian community at Philippi. He does not specify what the shameful deeds in question are, but contrasts their behaviour with that of true Christians whose homeland (native land) is heaven. Apparently the persons concerned acted is if their citizenship on earth (of the Roman empire) is what counted. They may have participated more than permitted in pagan temple feasting, bordering on paganism, acting as if the Christian way of life was simply one among other political groupings. Paul then turns to the Christian outlook on “citizenship”; Christians’ true homeland is heaven, with once weak mortal bodies transformed to be like that of Christ. In all this we should not forget Paul’s other emphasis that already on earth Christians are being changed (transformed) into the likeness of Christ, from one degree of glory to another; this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).

Gospel (Luke 9:28-36). As Jesus prayed. the aspect of his face changed. All three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, contain the account of the transfiguration, the change in the aspect of Christ’s face, six (or eight in Luke) days after the apostles’ profession of faith in Jesus at Caesarea Philippi. We may note some specific emphases in Luke’s account of the event. One is the emphasis on prayer, as elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus and the three special apostles went up the mountain to pray, and as Jesus prayed the appearance of his countenance was changed. The two men talking with Jesus are given in the correct order — Moses and Elijah (the reverse order in the other Gospels). Furthermore the subject of the conversation is given as Jesus’ passing (exodus) whish was to take place in Jerusalem. Jesus’ death and resurrection mean the new exodus of salvation for Jesus and for the Church. His transformed body will be the type of that of his faithful followers in heaven.

            This experience on the sacred mountain influenced the apostles and the Church greatly. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, bore witness to Jesus, and gave the Church a greater understanding of the unity of revelation of God’s plan through the Old Testament into the New. The Second Epistle of Peter (1:17-19) refers to it, and notes that the experience made the prophetic word more sure.

B. Reflection & Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Transfigured in Christ. Confirmed in the faith.

(Note that for the commentary on the Gospel reading and for the reflection, those in last’s year’s treatment of this Sunday (Year B) in this site may still be useful).

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 12:1-2).

            Today’s readings present us with occasion for much reflection. Only a few points need be mentioned here. (1) The unity that faith sees running through the God’s revelation in both the Old Testament and the mystery revealed in Jesus. Abraham was promised that through his seed (“and this seed was Christ”) all nations would be blessed. He might have implicitly in vision seen Christ’s glory. (2) As just noted, the transfiguration of Christ recalls Christian transfiguration here on earth and the final transfiguration in heaven.

            As a third (3) thought for reflection let us compare Paul’s model of Christian life presented by him to the Philippians with this apostle’s profession in tears that the behaviour of many Christians in that his beloved church was far removed from the ideal, in fact shameful. Times have not changed that much. And yet the Christian ideal triumphed.

            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 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 faith for any difficulties in the present.

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