06 August, 2020, Thursday, The Transfiguration of the Lord

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [DN 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 PT 1:16-19; MT 17:1-9  ]

When we arrive at our cross-roads in life, we need to make a radical decision on which direction to take.  Making such a decision is always difficult because of the uncertainty of the future ahead of us.   Some of us hesitate and eventually miss out on the opportunities given to us.  Others make rash decisions and get themselves into a worse situation than before.   Indeed, we all need some confirmation and encouragement for us to make the right decisions in life.  We do not want to live a life of regret for failing to seize the opportunities or for making the wrong decisions.

This was the situation of Jesus as well.  Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had just confessed in Jesus as the Christ.  But when Jesus prophesied about His imminent passion, suffering and death (Lk 9:22) Peter remonstrated. He “took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.'”  (Mt 16:22f)

Truly, we all need some kind of confirmation that we are walking on the right path in life.  This is particularly true when we are undergoing tremendous suffering, whether in health, in our job, in family life or in the community we belong to.  When things get too tough and we can no longer bear the situation, we feel like giving up.  To continue, or to surrender; this is our dilemma.  In such moments of anxiety and fear it is understandable that we want to be assured that we can handle the future and that we are on the right path.  This explains why many seek fortune-tellers and clairvoyants to know their future.  Unfortunately, many are tricked and deceived by the half-truths that the spirits give to these fortune-tellers and clairvoyants, misleading them into believing in them, and then eventually making self-fulfilling prophecies.

Real prophecies must come from the Lord, not from the spirit world.  Only God who knows all things can reveal to us our future.  We must not fall into such superstitious beliefs or allow ourselves to be deceived by the apparent prophecies of those involved in the occult because we are lending ourselves to be manipulated by them for evil ends.  Nevertheless, we do at times need prophecies to guide us in walking the right way.  St Peter, “So we have confirmation of what was said in prophecies; and you will be right to depend on prophecy and take it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds.”   These prophecies are visions that come from God, not from the spirits, and spoken by His chosen prophets, not self-appointed.

Jesus needed confirmation from His Heavenly Father that it was His will that He goes to Jerusalem to suffer, die and so enter into His glory.  And so “six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence, he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.”  Jesus was given a preview of what was to come.  His transfiguration was a preview of His resurrection when He would be clothed in glory and His body transformed.  But before this happened, it was necessary for Jesus to go through the passion.  “Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him.”   The vision of Jesus’ future was also confirmed by the prophet Daniel when he saw, “coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man. He came to the one of great age and was led into his presence.  On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed.”

However, the Transfiguration experience was not merely to confirm Jesus in the faith that the road to Jerusalem was in line with the divine plan of His Father, but it was also important to strengthen the faith of the disciples.  Indeed, they could not understand or accept Jesus’ prophecies of His imminent passion as a necessary path to His glory.  They were scandalized.  So the Transfiguration encounter was to reveal certain truths to the disciples in advance so that when they go through the passion with Jesus, they would then come to understand that everything written about Him “in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled” and “that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  (cf Lk 24:26f; 44-47)

The appearance of our Lord together with Moses and Elijah underscores Jesus as the fulfilment of Moses, who stood for the Law, and Elijah, who represented the ideal of the prophetic tradition.   Jesus is now presented as the New Law and the Eschatological Prophet because He is the Son of God, the Word of God in person.  This was what the voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.”  Obedience to the Lord is what is asked of us since Jesus is the Word of the Father.

The Transfiguration of our Lord reveals to us the final outcome of our journey in this life.  In His transfiguration, Jesus was radically transformed and revealed in His glory.  We too are called to share in the glory of our Lord.  We should not just be focused on the trials and crosses of our daily life but our eyes should also be focused on the future as well.  The future of our Lord is our future too.  Jesus is the hope of glory.  St Paul wrote, “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  (Col 1:27)

Hence, it was necessary that the disciples had a preview of this event so that they could hold on to this faith in times of trials and difficulties.  St Peter recounted, “It was not any cleverly invented myths that we were repeating when we brought you the knowledge of the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; we had seen his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father, when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him and said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour’. We heard this ourselves, spoken from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.”  Only because they saw it could they later come to understand fully what the vision truly meant.

However, it must be noted that they took time to understand this vision.  They had the vision but they could not fully make out the meaning. “The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.”  This is true for all of us who have a vision or some religious experience.  God has always given us signs of how we should act in life but many of us are ignorant and lacking understanding like the apostles.  As usual, it was only on hindsight that the apostles came to understand the significance of the Transfiguration.  We, too, unfortunately often take that path, which sometimes cost us a great price for failing to take heed of the signs revealed to us.  But it is also true that grasping our faith passed down to us would require time.  Faith does not grow within a day, not even in a radical religious experience.

In order that we might always be wise and prudent in our decisions, we must, like the Lord, make time for prayer and intimacy with Him.  We must avoid the same mistakes as the apostles as they were sleepy and tired.  Hence, they missed out on the full experience of the Transfiguration event.  We must spend time to contemplate on the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.  There is no better way than to pray and meditate on the scriptures and to celebrate the Eucharist.   To help us pray and contemplate better, we must remove the obstacles to prayer, such as physical fatigue because we do not give the best time to God in prayer, or because of our spiritual inertia due to unconfessed sins; or because we cannot let go of our past wounds and harbour resentment against God and our fellowmen.  Only then can we truly listen to God’s Son speaking to us in the daily events of our lives!

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved. The contents of this page may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission from the Archbishop’s Office. This includes extracts, quotations, and summaries.

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