Friday, August 6, 2010

This Is My Beloved Son: Listen To Him.

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Reading I
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
As I watched:
Thrones were set up
and the Ancient One took his throne.
His clothing was bright as snow,
and the hair on his head as white as wool;
his throne was flames of fire,
with wheels of burning fire.
A surging stream of fire
flowed out from where he sat;
Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him,
and myriads upon myriads attended him.
The court was convened and the books were opened.

As the visions during the night continued, I saw:
One like a Son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
The one like a Son of man 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.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 97
The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many islands be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
Because you, O LORD,
are the Most High over all the earth,
exalted far above all gods.
The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
2 Peter 1:16-19
We did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you
the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For he 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.”
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven
while we were with him on the holy mountain.
Moreover, we possess the 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 rises in your hearts.
Luke 9:28b-36
Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up a mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him,
Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.
The First Reading is from the Book of Daniel and records a vision that Daniel had of God in glory and it echoes the scene that is described in the Gospel.

“…The Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was snow bright and the hair on his head as white as wool… a surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat…”

The Second Reading is from the Second Letter of Peter where he says he and his companions are not dispensing clever myths but claims to be a first-hand witness of the glory that was behind Jesus. Referring to the Transfiguration experience he says they had been “eye-witnesses of his majesty”. He and his companions heard the words of confirmation coming from God in his glory: “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” They heard this voice which came “from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain”. Hence, the message that he and his companions are now proclaiming is “altogether reliable”. Hence, we should take it very seriously. Because, he says in a lovely phrase, this message is a light shining in a dark place “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”.

In all three Synoptic gospels the story of the Transfiguration occurs in the same context and that context is significant. We are in the middle of the Gospel account and things have been building up to a climax. As the disciples spend more time with Jesus, as they hear what he is saying and see what he is doing, they must have been asking, “Who is this Rabbi to whom we have attached ourselves; who is this Jesus?” Strangely, the answer comes from their own mouths.

One day, when Jesus was with them, he asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (He was using this strange title of himself.) Based on what they must have been hearing from people around them, they said there were various speculative answers – John the Baptist (resurrected from the dead), Elijah (ditto) or some other of the prophets. Jesus then pressed them further: “But who do you say I am?” It is then that Peter speaks up: “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” It was a peak moment in their relationship with Jesus. And an exciting one. How their imaginations must have begun to work on what it meant to be so closely associated with the Messiah, the King who would be the Saviour and Liberator of Israel! What glories and privileges awaited them!

But almost immediately Jesus begins to speak in a very different way. For the first time (it will happen three times altogether) he tells them what is future is going to be. And it must have come as a terrible shock. Jesus told them he was going to suffer greatly, be rejected by the leaders of their own people, be killed and then rise again after three days. They could not believe their ears. How could this happen to the Messiah? How could their own leaders do such a thing? And what would it mean for the dazzling future they saw dangling before their eyes?

The impetuous Peter immediately stepped forward: “This cannot happen to you!” he cried. He can hardly have expected the reaction of Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” And while they are recovering from this, Jesus continues by saying that not only will he himself suffer but, if they want to be his disciples, they will have to be ready to walk the same road. “Those who wish to follow me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”

It is in this depressing situation of disillusionment and incomprehension that the Transfiguration takes place. We are told that six days later (eight days in Luke) Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John up a high mountain by themselves. The identity of the mountain is not given and it is not important. In the Scriptures, mountains are holy places and special things always happen there – we think for instance of Mount Sinai (Moses), Mount Carmel (Elijah), the Sermon on the Mountain, the Feeding of the 5,000, and Calvary (Golgotha) was a hill outside Jerusalem.

There before them Jesus is suddenly transformed, dazzlingly bright. They can hardly look on him. Suddenly there appear with him Moses and Elijah. They represent the whole Jewish tradition of the Law and the Prophets. They are seen talking with Jesus. The message is clear. They fully endorse what Jesus is doing and saying and the future he has foretold about himself.

Peter becomes utterly confused. He suggests the building of three shelters – one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. As Mark comments, “He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.”

But that was not all. Just then, a cloud came down and covered them. This was not just a change in the weather. To the biblical mind it spoke of only one thing – the presence of Yahweh himself. And then out of the cloud came a voice; it could only be the voice of One Being. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Here now is the supreme endorsement of the Son by his Father. “Listen to him.” Yes, listen, even when he says things that you don’t like, things that you do not yet understand. It is a confirmation of all that has gone on before – the real identity of who Jesus is and the reliability of everything that he says will happen to him and what is expected of them.

It is a special moment of encouragement which will help carry them through the difficult days ahead. They already have the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” But now they have to learn the answer to a more important question, “What kind of Messiah is Jesus going to be?” They will not fully appropriate that until after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus when they will boldly continue his mission and not hesitate to carry their cross in doing so.

Let us follow in their footsteps. That is where true happiness and fulfilment lie.

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.'

This made me wonder how human languages can be said to serve Christ. The Bible has been translated into many languages and this process continues. The vulgate Latin version unified intellectual life in western Europe. Cyrillic versions gave a written voice to oppressed Slav (slave) peoples in eastern Europe. Luther's German translation defined modern High German. The King James and Douai Reims versions enrich modern English. Translations of the Bible gave a written form to many languages that had previously only been spoken in Africa and beyond: cultures were both preserved and changed. All translations of the Bible seem to be inspiring to the speakers of that language. We take this for granted, but the same cannot be said of the Hindu Vedas, while Muslims make a virtue of the untranslateability of the Quran.

The process of a language serving God in worship and thereby being 'served' with preservation shows again how, when we serve God, we get back more than we give.

When Our Lord asked his disciples who people thought he was, it seems nobody had dared mention the possibility that He might be the long awaited 'Prophet like Moses'. The Transfiguration specifies Exodus as the link between Moses and Christ - not Law, nor miracles, nor victory over false gods, although all these connections exist too. Following Christ is an Exodus.