25 February 2018
Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 15-18
Some time ago a woman was talking to a priest and said that 8 years earlier she was going through a very bad time in her life. Then one day she was praying in her room and she distinctly heard a voice telling her not to worry, that all would work out well. She was assured that ‘I will be with you’. And so it proved. Life eventually got better, her marriage which she thought was ending is strong again and sickness she was experiencing has been healed. The priest said to her that it appeared she had a mountaintop experience like the Transfiguration scene in today’s gospel.
Maybe quite a number of people have had a similar experience without being aware that it was a kind of Transfiguration event for them too.
The gospel today describes the transformation or transfiguration of Jesus. An encounter with God changes us. We read about an outer change in Jesus’ appearance, but for most of us, the experience of God brings about an inner change, a change of heart.
The gospel talks of the three disciples going up a high mountain with Jesus. He is the one who leads. In the two passages before this, he had been telling them that he was destined to suffer grievously, be put to death and rise again after three days. Peter reacts strongly and tells Jesus that this cannot be so. But Jesus says that anyone wishing to be a follower of his will have to take up his/her cross too.
The Transfiguration of Jesus now takes place. It has a double significance, one for Jesus himself and the other for the disciples.
For Jesus: he had taken the decision to go up to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die and he wanted to know if he had made the correct decision. On the mountaintop he received a double approval of his decision from Moses and Elijah. These two saw in Jesus the fulfillment of all that had been dreamed of in the past.
But above all, God his Father approved Jesus. Jesus did not just consult his own wishes. He went to God for confirmation and he gets it very clearly here. But the crucifixion on the cross will be part and parcel of what will ultimately lead to his glory.
For the three disciples: The idea that the Messiah would be rejected, made to suffer and die at the hands of his own people was simply unthinkable. Now it seems that this special experience is given to balance out the picture. These three disciples are given a glimpse of the ‘real’ Jesus to help them through the dark days ahead.
The gospel comments that Peter did not know what he was talking about in asking to build three tents or shrines. There would never be a shrine to Jesus except in the hearts of his followers. We cannot hold on to our good experiences. We must move on to face what come next in life. But the good news of the Transfiguration scene is that each of us has the potential for transformation, for transfiguration, for greatness. Often, suffering will be part of this but in overcoming our temptations and weaknesses, following Jesus’ example and the gift of his Spirit to help us we become more and more transformed into God’s dream for us, his desire for us. This is the basis of our Christian hope.
On the mountain a cloud came and covered them all. The cloud is traditionally the biblical way of describing God’s presence. The voice which says ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to him’ is God’s voice. It is God’s invitation to the disciples and ourselves to accept the difficult things he speaks about, his and our rejections, sufferings and deaths – but also resurrections. Jesus is the Word of God. To listen is to hear, to accept, and to follow – all the way leading to final glory.
God is totally pleased with the self-offering of Jesus on our behalf. God as the second reading says, ‘did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all’. That is why God is so pleased with his Son because Jesus offered up his life in order to show us the enormous love of God for us.
Most ordinary people do this in their daily lives without making any connection to the sufferings of Jesus. They are faithful in their marriages, looking after family and friends especially in time of sickness and difficulties etc. God equally says to all of you who do these: “You are my beloved children, in you I am well pleased”.
Finally, in the gospel scene when the bright cloud disappeared, the disciples are left with ‘only Jesus’. God has made himself that close and familiar to us that we do not need to be afraid. He is always with us and we should never forget the transfiguration moments in our lives, the glimpses of transcendence. They encourage us to be faithful especially in difficult times until the time of final glory.
“Lord Jesus, help us to be courageous in times of trial, knowing you are with us always. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA