Daily Homily: The Mystery of the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration of the Lord, Cycle A, August 6

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

Jesus often referred to himself as the Son of Man. In doing so, he refers to Daniel’s vision, which we read in the first reading. The Ancient One is the Father, the Son of Man is the only-begotten Son of God. In his heavenly vision, Daniel sees the Son receive dominion, glory and kingship from the Father. This same divine kingship is announced by Jesus at the beginning of his public life, for it was the Father’s will that Christ inaugurate the kingdom of heaven on earth. Ultimately, the Father’s will is to raise up men and women to share in his own divine life. He does this by gathering men and women around his Son Jesus Christ. «This gathering is the Church, ‘on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom'» (CCC, 541).

On the one hand, the Transfiguration is a confirmation of Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). On the other, it teaches the disciples that Jesus will gather people around him above all through his death on the Cross and through his Resurrection. In this way he accomplishes the coming of the Kingdom: «And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself» (CCC, 542).

The mystery of the Transfiguration, then, is a manifestation, an unveiling, of the glory that the Son receives from the Father. Both Moses and Elijah saw God’s glory on the mountain and they were privileged, during the Transfiguration, to see the glory of the Son. Just as Moses brought three men up the mountain covered by the glory of God and the cloud (Exodus 24:9-18), Jesus brings three Apostles with him to witness his glory. Moses, we are told, brought Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy elders of Israel up the mountain. There, they beheld God and ate and drank on the mountain as a conclusion to covenant just established. After six days, on the seventh day, a voice called out to Moses from the cloud (Exodus 24:16). We are not told what God said. The narration of the Transfiguration also makes reference to a period of six days, and a voice that speaks from the bright cloud. This time we are told that it is the voice of the Father and are told what he said: «This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him».

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).

Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain and speak to Jesus about his exodus, his 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)

Jesus’ Transfiguration is also connected to his Baptism in the Jordan. He was baptized on the threshold of his public life; he was transfigured on the threshold of his Passover. «Jesus’ baptism proclaimed ‘the mystery of the first regeneration’, namely, our Baptism; the Transfiguration ‘is the sacrament of the second regeneration’: our own Resurrection» (CCC, 556).

The Transfiguration is a central mystery of Christ’s life. John tells us that in the Incarnation, the Word of God pitched his tent among us, fulfilling what was celebrated (God’s protection in the desert) and longed for (the age of the Messiah) in the Feast of Tabernacles. The Transfiguration recalls the old covenant of Sinai and looks forward to the New Covenant. It confirms Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, but also reveals that the Messiah saves us through the exodus of the Cross. It looks back to Jesus’ Baptism and looks forward to Jesus’ Resurrection. It is a manifestation of the glory that the Son received eternally from the Father, but also looks forward to the glory he will receive through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, and is a foretaste of the glory of his second coming. It unveils the hidden glory of the Son in his first coming and looks forward to the glory we will receive from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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