Our Gospel reading about the transfiguration of Jesus is about an impressive theophany that moves our thinking forward to the resurrection and glorification of Jesus. It helps us to focus on our Lenten prayer and penance as we work toward our own destiny to eternal life in the kingdom of the Lord.
If, as some suggest, the transfiguration was given to Peter, James, and John to strengthen them for Jesus’ forthcoming passion and death, then that could be a plausible reason for its position in the liturgy of this time. In any case, it can serve as a light of hope for us throughout our lives.
Another perspective on our readings for this week is in the context of salvation history. In our first reading we have the call of Abraham who is the father in faith of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The theme word in the text is bless/blessing. Abraham was blessed by God, and he in turn would be a blessing and the father of a great nation. Those who blessed him would themselves be blessed. Abraham responded to the Lord’s call, and walked in faith to receive land and progeny as the Lord had promised him.
In the transfiguration theophany there appear two other great figures in salvation history. Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and were talking with him. Moses was the great lawgiver who led the Israelites to the border of the land God had given them. The written Mosaic covenant would be the guide for the covenant morality of the nation of Israel. Elijah was a worthy prophet who spoke to Ahab, the ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, about the lack of covenant morality in his kingdom (1 Kgs 18:17-18). The Prophet’s introduction to the people was, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (I Kgs 18: 20-21)
Our second reading moves the scenario into the Christian faith experience. The Second Letter to Timothy speaks of a veteran missionary’s suffering for the Gospel. God’s purpose from long before that time, and the grace that he gave in Christ Jesus, brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel message (2 Tim 9:1-10).
All of God’s work, from the early Biblical tradition until its fulfillment in the life and preaching of Jesus, comes to a climax in the words of Jesus in his transfiguration. The bright cloud that overshadowed the apostles is one element of the theophany. The voice from the cloud is another element. The voice of the Father from the cloud makes the presence of the Lord explicit. God said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:5)
Perhaps this selection of readings gives us some insight, both from the early traditions we have read, and now from Jesus’ ministry, that the purpose of the transfiguration of Jesus was to call us again to listen to the word of God given to us. In listening we may realize that it is Jesus himself who is speaking to us in our time as he did to his apostles long ago (Mt 17:8).
Let us reflect and pray with the Psalmist on the words of the prayer. “For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” Our true hope is in the Lord. (Ps 33)
Betty Jane Lillie, S.C.