Introduction to the Celebration
As we continue our Lenten journey towards Easter, we recall today the experience of the first disciples on their journey to the first Easter in Jerusalem. On a high mountain they beheld for a moment the glory of Jesus and heard the Father’s voice saying ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One, listen to him.’ Let us now reflect that, forgiven our sins, we may behold Christ’s glory in this celebration, and let us ask the Spirit to help us hear Christ’s voice in our lives.
During Lent, we are invited to be pilgrims on a journey with Jesus towards his suffering and death. Nevertheless, our pilgrimage does not stop with Jesus’ death, Instead, it ends with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the glory he shares with us as our risen Lord and Saviour. The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus provides us with a glimpse of the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father.
But, for all the mystery that surrounds the Transfiguration of Christ, there is a simple yet very relevant message. The Transfiguration is a pointer towards Christ’s future risen glory because he has been in union with the Father, aware that he must do the Father’s will in all things in order to fulfil God’s plan for salvation. The Father is proud of him and acknowledges this when he speaks in the voice coming from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him’ (Luke 9:35). It is in these words spoken by the Father that the real lesson is to be found.
We are also God’s children. Just as the Father was able to describe Jesus as beloved and advise people to listen to him, so, too, the Father wishes to be able to say the same about each one of us, his sons and daughters — although we are God’s children in a different way from Jesus Christ who is both divine and human.
Through our experience, God’s voice is never heard speaking directly from the clouds. However, God’s Holy Spirit, living in each one of us, desires to prompt us to recognise other people as God’s children too. In doing so, the Spirit challenges us to listen to them and watch them, since they enjoy God’s favour, so that we may learn more about God’s glory from the evidence of it in their lives. The sure sign that the Holy Spirit is living in them is their faithfulness to the teaching of Christ and his Church.
Of course, the same principle applies to other people recognising us as God’s children. But the prompting of the Holy Spirit will guide them to know us as God’s children, of whom he is justifiably proud, only if, like Jesus, we are constantly open to the Father’s influence in our lives. It is only when we radiate God’s love through our adherence to Christ’s teaching that we become recognisable as God’s beloved children. If our lives are sinful then the Spirit will be unable to use us as examples for other people and God’s glory will not be discernable in our lives.
Michel de Verteuil
Though we usually refer to this incident as the Transfiguration, Jesus’ appearing in glory was only the first stage of the experience the apostles had with him on the mountain. In your meditation then, feel free to enter the story at any stage, and even to remain with any part of the story that touches you, although you might also want to identify with the entire experience taken as a whole.
In verse 28, Jesus takes his three followers up the mountain to pray, and this is a symbol of the withdrawal that must take place before he can be transfigured.
In verses 29 to 31 the transfiguration is described as something that happened to Jesus himself first, before it was seen by the apostles. Note two points that are specific to St Luke’s account:
• the change happens while he is praying;
• Moses and Elijah were speaking to him about his passion.
Verses 32 and 33 give us Peter’s response. St Luke stresses that it was because he saw them leaving that he wanted to make the tents.
In verses 34 and 35 we have a sharp contrast: the apostles who were covered by a cloud, now experience the glory of Jesus, not visibly but through a heavenly voice.
Verse 36 is a brief and sober conclusion to the episode.
Found in all three Synoptics (and possibly referred to in 2 Pet 1:16-18) the story of the Transfiguration was an important element in the early preaching by the Christians about the identity of Jesus: it forms a distinctive christology that would have resonated deeply with Jews as it incorporates so many motifs and memories from the Old Testament. While the details vary between the gospel writers, in each case the clear purpose of the event is to show links with the great persons of the existing covenant, and with the tradition of prophecy. Both Moses and Elijah are prophets and lawgivers, both suffer, both had a vision of the glory of God on a mountain (Ex 24:15 and 1 Kgs 19:9), and most significantly neither had a natural death and neither had a tomb.
Jesus is now the fulfilment of all this history and the similarities with the events on Mount Sinai show this as Jesus being the New Moses establishing the New Law. As the Mosaic epoch was inaugurated on Sinai, so now the Christian epoch was being inaugurated here, but would only be fully recognised after the resurrection.
1. This gospel challenges all the easy reductions that we make about Jesus: Jesus the inspiring teacher, Jesus the compassionate preacher, Jesus the friend of the poor. He is all these, but he is also the One who comes from the Father, the One who, we believe, was prepared for by the prophets, the One who stands at the centre of history. The transfiguration calls us to expand our religious horizons.
2. But the story has a curious comic element: the Lord of history is transfigured with these earlier prophets each side of him, and Peter wants to set up a campsite! This shows the intimacy with which the human and the divine are present in Jesus: he is with his friends and interacts with them; he is present in the glory of God. All handy distinctions such as ‘high christology’ versus ‘low’, or ‘immanence’ versus ‘transcendence’ are seen as too tied down to the limits of our understanding by this scene: God is always greater, and what we can say about God is what we can see in Jesus.
3.Preaching must not try to ‘explain’ this scene, nor even to ‘expand’ upon it. Rather the scene calls for our minds and imaginations to dwell on it and seek to make its ‘picture’ of the ad
vent of God our own. So give a bit of the background that the first audience would have known, and then let imagination seek greater depths.
Lord, commitment to a noble cause involves a long and painful journey:
- to practice non-violence in all our relationships;
- to work for social transformation according to gospel values;
- to live the evangelical counsels.
There is a first glorious moment when we are led by our leader up a mountain
- aspects are changed and ordinary garments become brilliant as lightning;
suddenly our great predecessors are with us
and they are talking to us about the great victory that will soon come to pass.
It is wonderful for us to be there, and we want to make tents for ourselves.
But we do not know what we are saying,
because the words are barely out of our mouths
when a cloud comes and covers us with its shadow
- obstacles arise, we start to quarrel among ourselves, and some drop out.
We feel a terrible fear as we go into the cloud,
but we need not be afraid because within that cloud we find our commitment.
It is as if from the cloud a voice comes from heaven
assuring us that we have perceived a personal call from God, and we must follow it.
From that moment on, we know that we can stand alone,
and we feel no need to tell others what we have seen,
because we no longer need their approval.
Lord, we who are leaders of communities, of families, of parishes, or the country,
we spend too much time and effort talking about love, respect and loyalty.
Teach us to do like Jesus, to take our community with us
and go up the mountain to pray together,
so that as we pray we may see the glory that is within us.
Our aspects will appear changed and outer appearances which seemed shabby
will become brilliant as lightning.
Then suddenly we will become aware that we are in communion with our ancestors
and we are preparing ourselves for the crises that we are about to face.
Lord, we remember today all those who will be attending parish missions during the coming week.
Often, they will come heavy with sleep and burdened with worries;
we pray that they may keep awake and see the glory of Jesus
and all the saints standing with him, so that they will say to him,
“Master, it is wonderful for us to be here.”
“Prayer means yearning for the simple presence of God, for a personal understanding of his word, for knowledge of his will and for capacity to hear and obey him. ”
Lord, help us not to be content in our prayer with glorious visions
which make us feel wonderful to be there.
Teach us rather to yearn for deeper prayer,
for your cloud to come and cover us with shadow
while we enter into it, fearful and trembling,
and then, for your voice to come from that dark cloud, as we remain totally silent
and experience that we must listen to the precious word you have spoken.
Lord, in our modern world, we have lost the art of listening to people.
Teach us to wait for another with reverence,
putting aside our prejudices, our personal plans and expectations,
as if a cloud has come and covered us with shadow,
and we have gone into the cloud with utter poverty,
knowing only that we must listen to this precious child of God
whom he has chosen out of all humanity to stand before us at this moment.
Lord, we thank you for deep experiences:
- moments of intimacy between spouses;
- an insight that changed our whole way of thinking;
- the times we feel at one with ourselves and with all creation.
After such experiences, we are like the three disciples
- we keep silence and can tell no one what we have seen.
“Before I understood prayer, the mountains were nothing but mountains, and the rivers were nothing but rivers. When I got into prayer, the mountains were no longer mountains, and the rivers no longer rivers. But when I understood prayer, the mountains were only mountains, and the rivers only rivers. ”
Lord, take us along that journey by which Jesus takes us with him up the mountain
and we see glory; then we hear your voice saying he is your Son, the Chosen One,
and then after the voice has spoken he is found alone with us.
1: Transformation of minerals into pearls, gems and precious stones:
Precious stones like the diamond, emerald, ruby and sapphire, are the most valuable of all commodities. The most expensive gem Alexandrite costs $30, 000 per carat. Pearls are less costly. All these precious stones are the result of years of transformation or transfiguration. But today’s gospel describes Christ’s instant transfiguration revealing his divine glory surpassing the beauty of the most expensive gems. Most pearls are produced by oysters or some other mollusks in both freshwater and saltwater environments. Natural pearls are formed when a foreign object enters an oyster’s shell. To defend the oyster, layer after layer of calcium carbonate (nacre) along with other minerals grow and form like onionskins around the particle. Gradually the foreign objects are transformed into pearls which are very rare and expensive. Like natural pearls, cultured pearls grow inside an oyster, but with human intervention. Shells are carefully opened and different shapes of beads are inserted. Over time, the inserted beads become transformed by coats of nacre, which makes a pearl appear to glow inside and gives it a beautiful shine. The most valuable gems come from crystallized minerals that have formed under heat and pressure deep inside the earth for millions of years. Diamonds are formed far under the earth where the heat and pressure are very intense. Under these conditions the carbon atoms line up perfectly and a diamond crystal is born. Today’s readings challenge us to radiate the glory of the transfigured Jesus by renewing our lives by the observance of Lent.
-------------------------------------2: The transforming vision of Elisha’s servant:
There is a mysterious story in II Kings that can help us understand what is happening in the transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram and Elisha the man of God is using his prophetic powers to reveal to the Israelites the strategic plans of the Aramean army. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy. But when he learns the truth, he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha's servant is the first to discover that they are trapped and he fears for his master's safety. He runs to Elisha and says, "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" The prophet answers "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." But who would believe that when the surrounding mountainside is covered with advancing enemy troops? So Elisha prays, "O Lord, open his eyes so he may see." Then the Lord opens the servant's eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha's disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe but the invading army was totally humiliated. The transfiguration scene described in today’s gospel was intended to have a similar effect on Peter and the other apostles who were really afraid for their master’s safety in the context of growing hatred against and opposition to Jesus.
---------------------------3: “Lord, give me the grace for transformation.”
The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance. Biologists call it metamorphosis (derived from the Greek word metamorphoomai used in Matthew’s gospel) to describe the change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. As children we might have curiously watched the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly. Fr. Anthony de Mello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man. 'I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: “Lord, give me the grace to change the world.” As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: “Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.” Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: “Lord, give me the grace to change myself.” If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.'
--------------------------4: The old farmer from the countryside who was visiting a big city for the first time with his son, stood speechless before the elevator of a big hotel, watching in wonder, as an old woman got into the elevator and, within minutes, a beautiful young woman came out. He called out to his son who was registering at the reception. “Son, put your mother into that miracle machine immediately. It will transform her into a beautiful young lady.”
-----------------------5: At the transfiguration Peter offered to build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Jesus said, "And what about you, Peter?" And Peter replies, "Don't worry about me Lord, I got a better place in Jaffa."
---------------------6. Does a fast-food nation get the church it deserves, or demands . . . . a fast-food church? Not if Lent has anything to do with it.
Have you noticed that all the big fast food chains are touting their great new fish menus in the past couple of weeks?
McDonald's Fish McBites.Wendy's Alaskan Pollack sandwiches.
Red Lobster's LobsterFest.
Popeye's Shrimp baskets.
Economically it is a "down time." No big holidays this month and downright cold and wintery most places. The big chain restaurants are going to try and capitalize on anything they can. That includes Lent.
"Giving up" something for Lent has long meant, giving up rich goodies. Besides chocolate, red meat has always been near the top of that list. If you are old enough to remember those who only ate "fish on Friday," you can understand the sudden oceanic bent of McDonald's and Wendy's and other fast-food chains. If people of faith are "giving up" something for Lent, God-forbid that such a commitment should include "giving up" dining out at a fast food restaurant! Give them fast-food fish instead!
But Lent is not just a season of winnowing down, of doing without, of "giving up." In today's epistle text Paul reminds his readers that following Christ is about living as life as an advocate, as a positive force, not as an enemy, of the cross...____________________________
7. The World of the Prophet
What would you do if someone gave you one million dollars and then told you to come back as often as you liked and you could have whatever money you needed whenever you wanted? Just ask and it is yours. What if he told you to tell all your friends and they could also come and have a million dollars? Do you think you would tell your friends? Do you think you would show up regularly to receive more from this very wealthy and very generous person?
What would you think if you told your friends and they had you arrested? What would you think if people said you were an idiot for getting money from this generous person? What if people killed you for telling them about this person who was giving away free money? Would you expect people to accuse you of being narrow minded when you told people that they couldn't get free money from any other person? Would you expect people to say things like, "You know if we get our money every week, we won't really appreciate it?" Would you expect people to hunt down this very wealthy, very generous person and kill him?
Welcome to the world of the prophet. If you were to take my recent examples and replace the money with forgiveness, you would exactly describe the insanity that faces the prophet, the apostle, and all the messengers of God. God wants to cover us in His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation and for some reason, that makes people angry.
James T. Batchelor
_______________________________________8. In the Form of a Man
The Hindu temple is built in the form of a man. The outer court raised on pillars and open on all sides is the human body, the inner court with its wide spaces is the human mind, the shrine room is the human soul. Man moves within himself into himself and there finds the presence of God.
The Muslim mosque, too, is built in the form of a man. The central dome is man's head and the minarets are his hands upraised in prayer. Man comes to God through an act of adoration and submission. The Buddhist dogoba, too, is built in the form of a man. Its figure is that of a man in the posture of meditation: legs crossed the body erect, and the head held straight and unmoving. The approach to reality is by way of inner withdrawal from the world.
The Christian church, too, is built in the form of a man, a man stretched out
upon a cross. And this has made all the difference. The church does not ask its followers to find their way, or to discover truth within. The church says one man, Jesus of Nazareth is that way, is the truth. He is life. We put our faith in him knowing
_____________________9. Three Questions
Jaques Maritain, the great French philosopher of the last century, said there were really only three questions that had to be answered: "Who am I?" "Where am I?" and "Where ought I to be going?" Jesus knew who he was, and where he was, and where he had to go. Lincoln knew. So have all great leaders and great men and women of faith known. Do we know? Or are we out of focus, our goals fuzzy and ill-defined? Our world is so insane, but not any more so than the world of Jesus. Most people in his day, went to work every day, and came home, and were pulled this way and that. And they didn't ask the big questions very often. We remember Jesus because he did.
William R. Boyer, As a Hen Gathers Her Brood
10. Rejection and Refusal to Listen
Robert Fulton, an artist and engineer was responsible in the early 1800's for putting sailing ships out of business. He made the steamboat a standard on the open seas. It is said that he presented his idea to Napoleon. After a few minutes of this presentation Napoleon is reported to have said, "What, sir, you would make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her decks? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense."
_________________11. The Old Mother Hen
Have you ever seen a chicken hawk go after its prey? The old mother hen is often aware of the presence of the hawk in time to gather her chicks under her wing. With a furious fuss she squawks till her brood is safe by her side. She fluffs out her wings and protects them with her own body. The chicken hawk dives and the old hen turns her body toward him and cocks a wary eye without moving from her children. The predator comes in again for the kill and the mother spreads her wings even wider. A third time he dives only to be thwarted by the determined self-sacrifice of the mother hen. She is too big to be a target and the chicks are too safe to be seized so he flies away.
In Mission, British Columbia, a fellow by the name of Ike tells the story about his Grandpa's hen house which burned to the ground one day. Ike arrived just in time to help put out the last of the fire. As he and his grandfather sorted through the wreckage, they came upon one hen lying dead near what had been the door of the hen house. Her top feathers were singed brown by the fire's heat, her neck limp. Ike bent down to pick up the dead hen. As he did the hen's four chicks came scurrying out from beneath her burnt body. The chicks survived because they were insulated by the shelter of the hen's wings.
Richard J. Fairchild
_________________13. Compassion for the Suffering
In England in the 1940s a young woman entered Oxford University with little focus. She had no idea what to do with her life. But she soon came under the influence of a colorful professor of English, a writer with a gift, named C. S. Lewis. She became a Christian through much of his influence.
She left Oxford, against the advice of friends and family, and began to study nursing. After five more years of rigorous training, she was certified as a nurse.
But her story doesn't end there, for her questing Christian spirit would not let her rest with the way things were. You see, she ended up working on a cancer ward in a London hospital. Gradually, she came to realize that most of the doctors ignored the patients who were deemed terminally ill. As a result she watched many of them die virtually alone.
Greatly troubled she felt that Christian compassion needed to be expressed to these patients in a visible way...