Feast if the Transfiguration ‘A’

 
It is good for us to be here. Be attentive.

The Webster Dictionary defines an ‘aha moment’ as a point in time when one has a sudden insight or realization and I would add, a mystical experience, an inspiration the result of which is the awareness about life that clarifies the future and may even determine one’s destiny.

I think it’s safe to say that all of us have experienced at one time or other at least one significant ‘aha moment.’

Aha moments cannot be planned or contrived. They are usually triggered spontaneously under certain conditions or by a combination thereof. They might occur in a spiritual setting such as a retreat but it would not be unusual for an ‘aha moment’ to occur in a natural setting along the shore as one contemplates the power of the sea or at the top of the Rockies in Colorado as one contemplates the movement of the stars.

Notwithstanding all of the above, an ‘aha moment’ might simply be the outcome of an enriching encounter in a book or a conversation with a loved one or a friend.

It is a significant pause that touches our very identity enabling us to get our bearings as we face life’s challenges. It moves us beyond the confines of our ego and broadens our perspective on the present and future.

The experience of Peter, James and John was one of the most significant ‘aha’ experiences in their journey with Jesus.

Matthew’s narrative of the transfiguration is introduced on this feast by an excerpt from the apocalyptic Book of Daniel. Daniel was more than likely an apocryphal or legendary heroic figure who along with his companions was intended to instill courage in the Jews in the face of great trial and persecution by four successive, repressive and oppressive dynasties.

The stereotypical image of God signifies power and strength against evil. The white hair is symbolic of wisdom. The dazzling white garment is symbolic of purity. Nothing shall sully the image of God. No matter the power of evil, God is stronger and the Jews need not fear utter destruction. But the power of the ‘Ancient One’ is handed over to one like the Son of Man implying that salvation will come from within Jewish posterity.

Jesus appeared in dazzling white clothes like “the Ancient One” described in the apocalyptic Book of Daniel. He is accompanied by with Moses who represents the ancient law and by Elijah representing the ancient prophets. In Jesus we find the summation of the ancient Torah and the fulfillment of all the prophets.

The reference to ‘tents’ connected this event with the Jewish festival of “Booths” in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. The community of faith to whom Matthew was writing were reminded that in the midst of trials and persecution, God remains in control and at work not in the evil perpetrated by humans but in the words and deeds of Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God and Messiah.

In his gospel account, Matthew identifies Jesus three times as the Beloved Son of God: at his baptism near the beginning of his gospel, at his death on the cross near the end, and here at the midpoint or in the words of one commentator, “at a swing point” in the middle of his journey to Jerusalem. In each case, Jesus is acknowledged as God’s Son. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Scholars agree that the Second Letter of Peter was written by someone in Peter’s name. The author describes his experience of Jesus as if he were present with Peter, James and John in much the same way as we testify when we state in faith that we are witnesses to the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus recognizing him truly as the Son of God and so we can state with Second Peter: “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess this prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place until day dawns and the morning star arises in your heart.” [2 Peter 1:18-19] So listen up!

It is interesting that Matthew’s narrative of the Transfiguration is preceded by his description of the first of Jesus’ predictions of his passion. Recall it was during that exchange that Peter rebuked Jesus: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” To which Jesus quickly responded: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” [Matthew 16:22]

Then Matthew tells us that Jesus instructed the disciples about the cost of discipleship: “Whoever wishes to come after me must first deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life, will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” [Matthew 16:24-25]

The take away message is not complicated. We need to remain open to mountaintop experiences not to escape reality but to allow such experiences to transform us and enable us to remain faithful to true discipleship. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the face of Nazi Germany, “Cheap grace is the enemy of our Church… Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man [sic] must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs man [sic] his life and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” [The Cost of Discipleship]

The Scriptures are a double-edged-sword. They comfort but they also challenge but we can take heart from the words of St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians: “¬_All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit_.” [2 Corinthians 3:18]

The experience of Peter, James and John on the mountaintop was ‘unreal’ and we as they do not completely understand. The Gospel has come on hard times. But in the midst of our own realities—our daily challenges and the trials of our disenfranchised sisters and brothers, God is present and God speaks. Just as what was revealed on the mountaintop in this ancient vision was decisive for Peter, James and John, so it remains decisive for our us as faithful disciples of Christ.

So be attentive; listen up!

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