Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. When God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, came down to earth to suffer, die, and rise again for our redemption, he “clothed himself” in human flesh. In doing so, he “veiled” his divine glory and appeared like any other man. What would he look like if we could see him in his full glory as God? Today’s first reading, Daniel’s description of his vision of God, gives us some idea. Such a vision is not really possible to put into words, but Daniel does the best he can, describing all that he sees as being bright white and burning like fire. In particular, he speaks of “one like a Son of man” who “received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.” It is a prophetic vision of Jesus, who in Daniel’s time had not yet come in the flesh, but who was eternally reigning with the Father.
In the Gospel, Jesus chooses to show Peter, James and John a glimpse of his true glory. Again it is not easy to describe such a vision. St. Mark’s account simply says, “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. They represent the Law and the Prophets, the summation of God’s revelation to his people throughout salvation history. In appearing with Jesus, they show that he is the final and true revelation of God, the fulfillment of all that was promised in the Old Testament. Moses was the Lawgiver, but Jesus himself is the new Law. Elijah and the prophets spoke the word of God, but Jesus himself is the Word of God made flesh. He is the one we must listen to. The Father confirms this by speaking from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
St. Peter, one of the three privileged eyewitnesses on the holy mountain, wrote about the experience many years later. His account is today’s second reading. What he and the other Apostles have taught the early Church about Jesus is no “cleverly devised myth.” Peter declares that he himself saw the Lord’s majesty and heard the Father’s voice with his own ears. He insists that Jesus “received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” Therefore the Gospel message that Peter passes on to us is “altogether reliable.” He encourages us keep our eyes fixed on it as we make our way through this world, which is often a “dark place” where we can find it hard to see clearly what is truth and what is deception.
One of the things that makes the world a “dark place” for us is the experience of suffering. The Church has long interpreted the Transfiguration as a preparation for the Apostles, who are about to journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and witness his Passion. Thus, St. Leo the Great writes, “The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed…. This marvel of the transfiguration contains another lesson for the Apostles, to strengthen them and lead them into the fullness of knowledge” (Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, 2nd Sunday of Lent).
In his transfiguration, Jesus gives us not only a glimpse of his own true glory and an anticipation of his victory over suffering, he also shows us the glory to which we are called as his brothers and sisters, the adopted children of his own Father. We are one body with him by Baptism, called to share in his own life with the Father and the Spirit. This great feast reminds us once again that in Jesus we have hope of tremendous glory! As we learned yesterday, it is on him, Jesus the Son, that “the Father, God, has set his seal.” He is our Bread of Life, giving himself to us that we may be transformed into his glorious image and likeness. The feast of Transfiguration provides us a firm foundation for our hope that one day we will share in the glory that “first blazed out in him, our head” (St. Leo the Great, ibid.).
When faced with the darkness of the world, how can I remain fixed on the glory of God? Am I willing to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ? Do I place my hope in the Lord?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.