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080617 - Transfiguration - Fr. Reggie

Today we celebrate Our Lord’s transfiguration, the moment where he gave his closest disciples a glimpse of his divinity and glory to help them for the ordeals of his Passion that were about to come.

Today’s First Reading recalls the prophet Daniel’s vision of one “like a Son of man” receiving a lasting dominion and glory from the “Ancient One,” long before the Incarnation. This prophecy concerned the Messiah appearing before God the Father in glory. Note the nuances of the language. He is “like” a Son of man. In prophetic language “Son of man” refers to human beings, yet this Messiah is “like” a human being. Christ is truly God and truly man: he is “like a Son of man.” The night his Passion begins, standing before the Sanhedrin, he quotes the passage of Scripture to identify himself as the Messiah, and the Sanhedrin condemns him for blasphemy, even though he has spoken the truth: “the high priest said to him, ‘I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?’ They said in reply, ‘He deserves to die!’” (Matthew 26:63–66).”

In today’s Second Reading Peter recalls the experience he had on the mountaintop to remind the believers that the wonders of the Lord’s earthly life we not just myths, but events. The first listeners of Peter were familiar with the pagan gods that surrounded them and the myths that tried to fuel their existence in the minds of the pagan believers. Our Lord was not a myth: he was born in Bethlehem, lived in Galilee, preached the Kingdom through Palestine, and died on Calvary. He was also Transfigured on a mountaintop and raised from the dead. There were eyewitnesses to both the Lord Transfigured and the Lord Risen. All believers are not just repeating myths, but handing on testimony, as the Apostles did.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord reveals his divinity and glory to his closest disciples: Peter, James, and John. It’s an event recalled in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew’s account, the Lord’s clothing becomes as white as light. John in the prologue to his Gospel described the Lord as the true light that enlightens every man. Christ is not only illuminated but illuminating. The Lord is flanked by Moses and by Elijah to show that he is the culmination of the Law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah). They converse with Jesus and show their deference to him. It’s interesting that Peter says something to Jesus in “reply”: Jesus doesn’t seem to have said anything, but the scene speaks to Peter, and he struggles to formulate an adequate response in the face of so much glory. Maybe a shrine? This gradually paints the portrait that Our Lord is not only worthy of glory but divine. He clothes don’t just radiate light, but his face as well. The Messiah is not just an incredible man; he is God. If there was not already enough evidence of his divinity the voice of the Father booms from Heaven and declares Jesus to be his beloved and pleasing Son, worthy of their attention. That’s too much for the apostles, who fall prostrate in fear. Almost as soon as it happens it is over: Jesus gets them up, tells them not to be afraid, but also makes sure they will recount the vision to the others after he is risen from the dead. Even the Transfiguration is an event meant for everyone, not just a trusted few.

If myths are devised, events after the fact are reconstructed. Something may be incredible and irrational and still be true. To reconstruct an event you seek evidence and witnesses. You test the evidence and weigh the witnesses’ credibility. In a historical critique of documents, a passage that appears in two or more independent sources is considered likely to be authentic (source). Multiple witnesses lend credibility to testimony. One of the arguments for the historicity of the Gospels is that multiple witnesses attest, with only slight variations, to certain central events. In Biblical scholarship, this is called multiple attestations. The Transfiguration was not a myth invented by the first disciples. It was an event to which we continue to give witness.

If the Transfiguration really happened, and it did, that may call for a Transfiguration of Our Lord in your own life. Is Our Lord just an amazing historical figure in your life, or is he God the Son, the Lord of life and history? The human side of Jesus is perfect but insufficient. He gave us a sneak preview of his divinity and glory for a reason. Explore that reason this week and embrace him not only as a historical figure, but as a wise teacher, good friend, and Lord.

 

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