The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year A.)
(Genesis 12:1-4; 2nd. Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9)
When a dog looks at the world around it sees all the objects that are naturally visible to our eyes, but only as objects … it cannot appreciate what for us is, often enough, the most wonderful aspect of the world around us: its beauty.
Scripture speaks on one occasion of scales falling or being taken away from before a person’s eyes:
Immediately there fell from (Saul’s) eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. (Acts 9:18)
We might therefore be permitted to say that a dogs’ eyes are ‘scaled’, which prevents them from recognizing the beauty of what they see.
Likewise, it is eminently possible – as we heard last week -- for men to hear words but not recognize truth:
The Lord said, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' "Make the heart of this people dull and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and return and be healed." (Isaiah 6:9-10)
On the mount of Transfiguration the Father opens up a new experience of life and being to Jesus’ chosen disciples, Peter, James, and John; an experience they are only able to bear and begin to appreciate thanks to the fact that Jesus, their Lord, is the subject and focus of all that happens around them.
The world has long known of God but not appreciated Him; mankind has long had some understanding of the words ‘good’ and ‘goodness’, but Jesus quite deliberately assured the rich young man knelt before Him and asking Him most earnestly about eternal life, that true goodness is well-nigh unknown to us:
Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. (Mark 10:18)
O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do. (John 17:25)
Moses, thousands of years ago, after having spoken with God on Mount Sinai and coming down to the people, found it necessary to:
Put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory (on it), even though it was destined to fade away. (2 Cor. 3:13)
People of God, how many veils need to be lifted before men can ‘face’ the beauty of the world around us and recognize, love, and praise God its creator as they aught? How many, many, scales need to fall from our eyes if we are to more fittingly appreciate and truly love what God has given to and for us in the supreme wonder of all creation, Jesus of Nazareth, His very own Son-made-flesh, the promised Christ of Israel, the Lord, God, and Saviour of all mankind??
As regards today’s feast, it is usual to think that Jesus -- having just spoken of His coming death to His disciples for the first time -- decided to lead them up the Mount of Transfiguration for their comforting and strengthening in Him, by letting them see something of His glory. I do not think that is a fully satisfactory appreciation of the event.
So very often little notice is taken of the Father’s Personal relationship with, and solicitude for, His Son-made-flesh. Just as -- I believe -- He, the Father, moved Jesus to leave Nazareth and make His way to John baptizing contrite sinners, for the fulfilment of His, the Father’s Own purpose to reveal, prepare, and glorify His Son for His public mission; so here, Jesus did not decide to glorify Himself on the mountain top, even though it be for His disciples’ well-being. No, it was the Father Who drew Jesus to that mountain-top for Jesus’ own Personal comforting and strengthening with regard to His impending Passion and Death; and also – having chosen to be accompanied by His Own specially chosen disciples -- for Jesus’ pastoral concern with regard to the understanding, wisdom, and strength of the Apostles for their establishment of His future, world-wide, Church and their right proclamation of His Gospel.
The Father’s solicitude and care is so wonderful in the Scriptures and the life of Jesus and Mary, and so very little of it is recognized, admired, and loved.
Jesus had learnt, as man, to know Israel’s God to be His very own Father; that He had learnt from His sublimely Personal affinity and acquaintance with, ever-growing knowledge and existential awareness of, and supremely sympathetic and loving understanding of the words of Scripture and the spirit of Israel’s liturgy and worship. And, of course, having learnt, as man, to know His Father in all truth, He also learnt of Himself and His own destiny and purpose as man on earth:
Just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I will lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:15)
That is why now, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Father sent both Moses and Elijah to assure Jesus, as man, that He had most certainly learnt aright about God and Himself as Son and Saviour from Israel’s Law and her Prophets.
If you had believed Moses, you would have believed Me, because he wrote about Me. (John 5:46)
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” (John 1:45)
He said to them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)
The ever-faithful St. Paul succinctly proclaimed this truth in his Roman captivity:
They arranged a day with Paul and came to his lodgings in great numbers. From early morning until evening, he expounded his position to them, bearing witness to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the law of Moses and the prophets, (saying) ‘Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets.’ (Acts 28:23 and Romans 3:21)
And so it was that Jesus -- fully aware that the ‘world’s situation’ was demanding His Passion and death though being in the most desperate need of the still totally unsuspected glory of His saving love – could descend the Mount with calm resolution about, and unshakeable preparedness for, His own Personal destiny, and with a sure and confident trust that His Father had just most clearly shown His caring will and wise preparation for the Apostles’ proclamation of Jesus' Gospel and the future establishment of His Church among men.
O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know You sent Me. (John 17:25)
That calm assurance was to be the hallmark of the Transfiguration for He solemnly advised His three Apostles on their approach to their brethren and the people:
Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.