The Transfiguration

03-13-2022Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

In the verses from the Book of Genesis just before those of today's reading, Abram has come near to the end of his rope. He is so disappointed and frustrated that he and Sarai have not been able to have children. Surprisingly, God responds to Abram's search for an answer from out of the night sky. In the starlight of the night, God makes a covenant with Abram. This is very different from the usual covenant of the weak being obliged to the powerful, rather in this covenant the powerful, namely God is obliged to the weak, namely Abram. In it, God makes it very clear that Abram does not have to do anything to earn God's generosity of descendants and land. In fact, all Abram has to do is have faith and trust that God will act on his behalf. In a sense it is quite simple: God promises, Abram trusts, and the covenant is fulfilled.

The second reading, a brief passage from the Letter to the Philippians is not clearly tied to either the first reading or the Gospel. The reading is appropriate though because it reminds us that we are beneficiaries of God's amazing grace. We are told that we are not citizens of an earthly kingdom but a heavenly one. The Sacrament of Baptism opens the gate to that citizenship and as importantly a well-lived life paves the road to it. At the conclusion of our life, we will share in Christ's glorified body as citizens of heaven.

In today's Gospel, our selected passage has Jesus at prayer on a mountain. The inner circle of his apostles is with Jesus and they all are asleep. This is considered a foreshadowing of another scene to take place on a mount. Dramatically and suddenly, Jesus is wrapped in glory, and with Him are others who are experienced with mountaintop visits from God. Present is Moses who communed with the Lord amid fire and storm and also Elijah who was attentive to the gentle wind-whisper of the divine voice. In this Gospel scene, Moses the great leader and lawgiver, and Elijah the great prophet stand upon the mountaintop, one on each side of Jesus, and all three are bathed in glory. In this scene, we learn that they are speaking of Jesus' coming "passing over" or pasch that is his passing over through suffering and death to new life. They are also discussing how everything the Law and the prophets said of the messiah might be fulfilled.

The sleeping disciples of Jesus see none of this taking place, but then they awake and see the three together, Peter's reaction is to be overawed and asks to erect three booths. At this point, the heavens break forth with a loud voice. It is the voice of God coming forth from the cloud, just as it did when the Israelites left Egypt, as also it did on Sinai's peak, and also in addition, as it did at the baptism of Jesus. The voice names Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God as described by the prophet Isaiah. The message is a special revelation and also a command to us as it plainly says: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him."

This scene in today's Gospel is a poignant and powerful one. There are several powerful images from the Scriptures, both Hebrew, and ultimately Christian scripture. Jesus, Moses, Elijah, all three come together at the Transfiguration. On the mountain, we discover who Jesus is, what he must do, and the fullness of the glory that will be his once he accomplishes his mission. This truly is a powerful passage for us to reflect upon and learn from in our lives.

Are you aware by placing this story in the Gospel the message of the Transfiguration, shown to the special three (Peter, James, and John), is meant for all of us? It is also meant for our world today, a world lost in various ways and hungering for a savior. We must act as witnesses to the Transfiguration for others. We are to be the ones who joyfully tell of our faith and trust in God. The apostles did not need to overpower others with words or judge them to proclaim this message, instead, in their time they spoke of the Lord Jesus and His message. We are to try to do the same in our lives, by speaking and living the life and love of Jesus.