The pre-story of this Old Testament reading is that Abram is greatly despairing because he and Sara are unable to have children. God now answers him, inviting Abram outside to view the beauty of the night sky. There, bathed in the starlight, God speaks and offers an unbelievable covenant to Abram. This is a strong and dramatic contrast to the usual covenant. The covenants of that time required the weak to be obligated to the powerful; in this special covenant, the great and all-powerful God is willingly obligated to the very powerless Abram. Note how God also makes it crystal clear that Abram does not have to do anything to earn God’s generosity. Indeed the only true requirements that Abram has to have are faith and trust that God will act on his behalf. Notice the balance: God promises, Abram trusts—thus the covenant is fulfilled.
The second reading from Philippians is not directly linked to either the first reading or the Gospel. However, it does help us to gain insights into these two readings. Paul’s letter tells us that we are beneficiaries of God’s amazing grace. We are to know that we are not citizens of an earthly kingdom but of a heavenly one. The Sacrament and Grace of Baptism opens the gate to that citizenship, and a well-lived life paves the road to it. In conclusion, a share in Christ’s glorified body will be a benefit to all heaven’s citizens.
Our Gospel passage finds Jesus at prayer on a mountain. We learn in the reading that with him are the inner group of his apostles, all of whom are asleep—certainly a wonderful sign and symbol of mysterious things to occur in the near future on a vastly different mount. In this passage Jesus is dramatically and suddenly wrapped in glory. With him stand other famous Israelites of the past who also had mountaintop visits from God: the great leader Moses, who communed with the Lord amid fire and storm, and the famous prophet Elijah who was attentive to the gentle wind-whisper of the divine voice. These two iconic figures of the Israelite history are there on the mountain, each on one side of Jesus and all three of them are bathed in a glorious celestial light. On this mountain they are speaking of Jesus’ coming “passage” or pasch—his passing over through suffering and death to new life—and how everything the Law and the prophets said of the messiah might be fulfilled.
The sleeping disciples do not hear and see this part, but finally wake up and see all three. Thunderstruck Peter offers to build three booths, but then the heavens open up with the voice of God from a cloud. Recall that God’s voice in a cloud led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and also at Sinai and again when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Today’s Gospel offers us many powerful images from all of our scripture, both Hebrew and Christian. From this passage we discover who Jesus is, what he must do, and also the fullness of the glory that will be his once he accomplishes his mission.
Bear in mind that the message of the Transfiguration, shown to these privileged three special followers (Peter, James, and John), is actually meant for us all. It is meant for our world today, a world caught in so much turmoil and trouble. We learn that those of us who seek to listen to Jesus and to follow him must be willing to suffer for others that they, too, might find hope, come to trust in the God who fulfills promises, and so experience transformation. And we do so by acting as witnesses to the Transfiguration for others.
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