Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

This week we interrupt this cycle of Ordinary Time to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  This is a fixed-date feast that falls on the 6th of August, so when it falls on a Sunday our usual readings are put aside because the readings for the feast take precedence…


Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9
2 Peter 1:16-19
Matthew 17:1-9

We open with a reading from the Book of the prophet Daniel.  The Book of Daniel is an unusual work, taking its name not from its author but from its main character, Daniel, a Jewish captive being held in the prisons of King Nebuchadnezzar during the Exile.  The book itself, however, is dated some 350 years after the events of the Exile, and is written in a “apocalyptic” style that doesn’t come into vogue until around 200 BCE.  Not only is the book’s literary style unusual, its classification is also unusual.  Listed as one of the major prophetic works, it could be classified as historical, poetic, or wisdom literature.  Much of the book is devoted to his many visions that promise deliverance for God’s people, be it deliverance from Babylon in the 5th century BCE or Greeks and Romans of the 2nd century BCE.

Our passage from Daniel for this Feast of the Transfiguration is from one of his visions of the Judgement.  Here Daniel sees the “Ancient One” mounting his throne, followed by “one like a Son of man” receiving dominion over all peoples and nations.  Certainly a fitting image for our Feast of the Transfiguration, and our Psalm picks up this theme as we sing “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.”

Our second reading comes from the second letter of Peter.  In the opening of this second letter Peter explains how their testimony to Christ is authentic by virtue of his being witness to the events of the Gospels… in this case, to the moment of the Transfiguration where God exclaims “this is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Our Gospel from Matthew then takes us to the moment of the Transfiguration itself, where Jesus invites Peter, James, and John up the mountain.  Here they are witness to Jesus transfigured, in dazzling white, conversing with Moses and Elijah, followed by the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  The apostles are stunned, but Jesus exhorts them to not tell anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

Final thoughts:
Why does Jesus always seem to be telling his Apostles not to say anything after seeing a miracle?  This is a topic of great debate with many different answers.  And there may not be one single answer for this phenomenon, because as with all questions related to scripture, we Catholics must also look at the context of the situation.  Very often after Jesus heals someone he will tell them not to tell anyone.  Why?  There are several valid reasons.  One could be that Jesus doesn’t want the attention, feeling that it distracts from his larger mission.  One could be that Jesus doesn’t want his miracles to overshadow his message.  Another valid excuse could be Jesus using reverse psychology… telling them not to tell only increases the possibility that they will and thus increase his popularity. 

All these could be valid, but our story today takes this idea of not telling anyone to a deeper level.  Here Jesus is quite specific… don’t tell anyone “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  Jesus actually wants them to tell the story of the Transfiguration.  He took them up on the mountain specifically for this purpose.  But Jesus also knows that there’s a time and place for everything, and now was not the time.  There was still more Jesus needed to do.  There was sill more for the Apostles needed to see and do.  In this case, our Apostles see something miraculous, that is not only illuminating but validating.  But there is still much more to come.  The story is still not complete.  Only through the experience of Jesus death and resurrection can our salvation be gained, and the glory of that moment makes the glory of this moment that much more clear.

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