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Features \ Asia - Liturgical Reflections

Transfiguration - August 06, 2017

Transfiguration - RV

Transfiguration - RV

01/08/2017 09:00

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; ; II Pt  1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9

Anecdote:   O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” There is a mysterious story in 2 Kings that can help us understand what is happening in the Transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram, and Elisha, the man of God, is using his prophetic powers to reveal the strategic plans of the Aramean army to the Israelites. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy, but when he learns the truth he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha’s servant is the first to discover that they are surrounded and fears for his master’s safety. He runs to Elisha and says, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” The prophet answers “Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But who would believe that when the surrounding mountainside is covered with advancing enemy troops? So Elisha prays, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opens the servant's eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha’s disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe, but the invading army was totally humiliated. (Taken from Fr. Munacci)

Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is the metamorphosis or transformation of Christ by the empowering of God the Father Who sent His Son as our Savior and Redeemer.   Today’s Gospel describing Christ’s Transfiguration challenges us to revitalize our Faith as true disciples of Christ, just as the passages from Daniel and II Peter were written to strengthen the Faith of their audiences in times of persecution. In the feast of the Transfiguration, the Church both commemorates the event of the Lord’s Transfiguration and shows us the way to our own transfiguration.   The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus is celebrated by various Christian communities. The origins of the feast are less than certain and may have derived from the dedication of three basilicas on Mount Tabor. The feast was present in various forms by the 9th century, and in the  Western Church was made a universal feast on 6 August by (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Callixtus_III) Pope Callixtus III  to commemorate the raising of the Siege of Belgrade.   On July 22, 1456, Crusaders defeated the Turks at Belgrade. When the feast falls on a Sunday, its liturgy is not combined with the Sunday liturgy (the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, this year), but completely replaces it. All three Synoptic Gospels tell the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36). With remarkable agreement, all three place the event shortly after Peter’s confession of Faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death. Peter’s eagerness to erect tents or booths on the spot suggests the event occurred during the Jewish week-long, fall Feast of Booths.

First reading: (Dn 7:9-10, 13-14): The first reading, taken from the Book of Daniel, presents before us Daniel’s vision of God’s glorious Heavenly Court of Judgment, where the devil is eternally punished and the ascended Jesus is glorified.  God the Father is depicted as being seated on a throne in Heaven, His glory flashing out and angels all around. Judgment is about to take place, and it will be followed by the execution of the sentence. Divine judgment is passed on the terrible beast representing the devil and the evil kingdoms controlled by him, and he is removed from power. Then God gives “dominion, glory and kingship” to the one like the “Son of man” (representing Jesus, the risen and ascended Messiah) “coming on the clouds of Heaven.” When the Church proclaims in the Creed that Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, she is saying that it was to Christ that dominion was given. “Being seated at the Father's right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah's kingdom, the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel's vision concerning the Son of man; 'To him was given domination and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed' (Dan 7:14)” (CCC # 664). The mystery of the Transfiguration, then, is a manifestation, an unveiling, of the glory that the Son receives from the Father.

The second reading: II Peter 1:16-19: In the second reading, St. Peter argues in his Second Letter to the Church that the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ (at which the voice of God the Father was heard by the three apostles: “This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased") and the testimony of the Old Testament prophets (in the Messianic prophecies) are the guarantee of the doctrine of Christ's Second Coming. The “prophetic word” refers to all Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament; these were fulfilled in Jesus in the New Testament. Just as the Transfiguration was not a myth, but a reality Peter witnessed, the Second Coming of Jesus will be a reality. The phrase Peter uses, "the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ": sums up the purpose of apostolic preaching: "power" indicates that Jesus Christ is God and is Almighty like the Father; the "coming” (literally "Parousia") means the same as His manifestation in glory at the end of time. (Navarre Bible commentary). Peter’s argument is that if Jesus Christ allowed His Divinity to be glimpsed just for a moment, He will also be able to manifest it in its fullness and forever at the end of time.

Exegesis: The objective and time of the Transfiguration:  The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to consult his Heavenly Father in order to ascertain His plan for Our Lord’s suffering, death and Resurrection.  The secondary aim was to make Jesus’ chosen disciples aware of His Divine glory, so that they might discard their worldly ambitions about a conquering political Messiah. A third purpose was to strengthen their Faith and hope and to encourage them to persevere through the future ordeal. The Transfiguration took place in late summer, probably in AD 29, just prior to the Feast of Tabernacles.  Hence, the Orthodox tradition celebrates the Transfiguration at about the time of the year when it actually occurred in order to connect it with the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles.  Western tradition celebrates the Transfiguration twice, first at the beginning of Lent with the Gospel account and second on August 6 with a full feast day liturgy.

The location of the Transfiguration was probably Mount Hermon in North Galilee, near Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus had camped for a week before the Transfiguration.  The 9200-foot mountain was desolate.  The traditional oriental belief that the Transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor is based on Psalm 89:12. But Mount Tabor is a hill in the south of Galilee, less than 1000 feet high with a Roman fort on top of it, an unlikely place for solitude and prayer.  

The scene of Heavenly glory: The disciples received a preview of the glorious figure Jesus would become at Easter and beyond. While praying, Jesus was transfigured into a shining figure, full of Heavenly glory.  This reminds us of Moses and Elijah who also experienced the Lord in all His glory.  Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush at Mount Horeb (Ex 3:1-4).  After his later encounter with God, Moses' face shone so brightly that it frightened the people, and Moses had to wear a veil over his face (Ex 34:29-35). The luminosity of the face of Moses is also meant to signal the invasion of God. The Jews believed that Moses was taken up in a cloud at end of his earthly life (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4. 326).  Elijah had traveled for forty days to Mt. Horeb on the strength of the food brought by an angel (1 Kings 19:8).  At Mt. Horeb, Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the glory of the Lord passed over him (1 Kings 19:9-18).  Finally, Elijah was taken directly to Heaven in a chariot of fire without experiencing death (2 Kings 2:11-15). In addition, “Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt, received the Torah on Mount Sinai and brought God’s people to the edge of the Promised Land. Elijah, the great prophet in northern Israel during the ninth century BC, performed healings and other miracles and stood up to Israel’s external enemies and the wicked within Israel. Their presence in Matthew’s Transfiguration account emphasizes Jesus’ continuity with the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) in salvation history.”(Fr. Harrington S. J.)

These representatives of the Law and the Prophets foreshadowed Jesus, the culmination of the Law and the Prophets.  Both prophets were initially rejected by the people but were vindicated by God.  The Jews believed that these men did not die because God Himself took Moses (Dt 34:5-6), and Elijah was carried to Heaven in a whirlwind (II Kgs 2:11).  So the implication is that although God spared Moses and Elijah from the normal process of death, He did not spare His Son. Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain and speak to Jesus about his exodus (departure), that he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Once again, the Transfiguration is a revelation that the way to glory passes through the Cross. The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” But it also recalls that “it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God”(CCC, 556). On Tabor, light pours forth from Jesus; on Calvary, blood pours forth. [E. Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word  (Ignatius Press), 564]

God the Father’s Voice from the Cloud: The book of Exodus describes how God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from the Cloud.  God often made appearances in a cloud (Ex 24:15-17; 13:21-22; 34:5; 40:34; 1 Kgs 8:10-11).  I Kgs 8:10 tells us how, by the cover of a cloud, God revealed His presence in the Ark of the Covenant and in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day of its dedication.  The Jews generally believed that the phenomenon of the Cloud would be repeated when the Messiah arrived.  God the Father, Moses and Elijah approved the plan regarding Jesus' suffering, death and Resurrection.  God’s words from the Cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him,” are the same words used by God at Jesus' baptism (3:17).  They summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration: on this mountain, God reveals Jesus as His Son -- His beloved -- the One in Whom He is well pleased and to Whom we must listen. The last time we hear God the Father’s Voice in the Gospels is in the Temple following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day we know as Palm Sunday, when Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name and the Father responds, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:28). The Transfiguration was a manifestation of the glory of Jesus here on earth, a foretaste of the glory of Christ’s Resurrection, and therefore a foretaste of Heaven.

The six days: The six days could also be a reference to the Feast of Tabernacles. Peter confesses Jesus’ Divinity on the Day of Atonement in Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-20), and the Apostles travel south for six days and reach Mount Tabor. The Transfiguration would have taken place, then, on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. During the Feast, the people of Israel recalled the time of Israel in the desert; they did this by living in tents. The people also looked forward to the age of the Messiah, when the just will dwell in tents (Zechariah 14:16). So, when Peter wants to make three tents – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah – he is recognizing the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles: the Messianic age has come. “It is only as they go down from the mountain that Peter has to learn once again that the messianic age is first and foremost the age of the Cross and that the Transfiguration – the experience of becoming light from and with the Lord – requires us to be burned by the light of the Passion and so transformed” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, 315).

Life messages: (1) The transfiguration of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus by transubstantiation in the Holy Mass, is the source of our strength. At the shortage of wine during the wedding of Cana, Jesus changed water into wine. A substance became another substance. In each Holy Mass, our offering of bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine. But the Mass is not a transfiguration but a transubstantiation, in which bread and wine are transformed into the risen and glorified Jesus. Hence, just as Jesus’ Transfiguration strengthened the Apostles in their time of trial, each Holy Mass should be our source of Heavenly strength against our own temptations and our source for the renewal of our lives during Lent.  In addition, communion with Jesus in prayer and in the Eucharist, should be a source of daily transformation of both our minds and hearts.  We must also be transformed by becoming more humble and selfless, sharing love, compassion and forgiveness with others. But in our everyday lives, we often fail to recognize Jesus when he appears to us “transfigured,” hidden in someone who is in some kind of need.  Jesus will be happy when we attend to the needs of that person.  With the eyes of Faith, we must see Jesus in every one of our brothers and sisters, the children of God we come across each day and, by His grace, respond to Him in them with love and service.

(2) Each Sacrament that we receive transforms us.   Baptism, for example, transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of heaven.  Confirmation makes us the temples of the Holy Spirit. By approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we recognize, repenting, that we have sinned, God brings us back to the path of holiness. By receiving in Faith the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, we are spiritually, and if God wills physically, healed and our sins are forgiven.

(3) The Transfiguration offers us a message of hope and encouragement. In moments of doubt and during feelings of despair, the expectation of our transformation in Heaven helps us to reach out to God and listen to His consoling words: “This is my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased.”

(4) We need these 'mountain-top’ experiences in our own lives.  We can share experiences like those of Peter, James and John when we spend some extra time in prayer.  Perhaps we may want to fast for one day, taking only water, thus releasing spiritual energy, which in turn, can lift our thoughts to a higher plane.  Such a fast may also help us to remember the starving millions in the world, and make us more willing to help them. ( Fr. Anthony Kadavil)

01/08/2017 09:00