Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew (17:1-8)
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
The book of Proverbs tells us that "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov 1:7). So often today, however, it seems that we've traded holy fear for an almost inappropriate familiarity with God. From the ridiculous "Buddy Christ" of Kevin Smith's Dogma to t-shirts declaring that "Jesus is my Homeboy", to a more accurate, though still somewhat unbalanced sense within Christianity of a merciful Lord who is always and only forgiving, closer than a brother, etc., we can tend to forget that the flipside of the coin of mercy is God's absolute justice. We can sometimes emphasise the friendship of Jesus and minimise the Kingship of Jesus.
As I reflected on in the last Mystery, Jesus is indeed forgiving and merciful. He is full of compassion for sinners, and will always welcome the repentant back into His loving Heart. We must never lose sight of that fact. Yet on the other hand, we must never lose sight of Jesus' absolute Holiness, either. The story in the Gospels of the Transfiguration remains as a helpful check and balance to "Jesus the Homeboy."
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain in order to pray, as was Jesus' usual custom to get away from the crowds and spend time alone with His Father. But this time, with these three disciples present, Jesus gives them a revelation of His true glory. It seems to me that the more truly intimate and personal and "friendly" we are with our Lord, the more of His radiant holiness we will behold, and the more reverent awe we will have for Him. It is a sign of a facile and flippant Christianity to speak of Jesus the "personal saviour" without Jesus the Holy Lord.
When Jesus and His disciples go up the mountain, Jesus is transfigured, becoming radiant and shining like the sun. While there, Moses and Elijah appear to Him and talk with Him. In Luke's account, what they discuss is Jesus' upcoming Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, which Luke describes as His "Exodus" (Luke 9:30-31), an allusion, obviously, to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. In fact, the entire setting of this story brings us back to that event, as even their presence on the Mountain suggests Moses' ascent of Mt. Sinai to receive the Law (Exodus 19ff). Peter's offer to build tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus recalls the tents which the Israelites lived in during the wanderings in the wilderness, commemorated in the Feast of Tabernacles, and when, at this suggestion, a great cloud descends upon the group, and they hear the Voice of God speak, we remember the Lord's words to Moses in Exodus 19:9, "I am coming to you in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear Me speaking with you, they may always have faith in you, also."
As Jesus reveals the resplendence of His divinity, Moses and Elijah come to speak to Him of His impending Passion. There is never Glory without the Cross, and even as Jesus' followers, we must remember that unless we follow Christ in His crucifixion, we will never partake of His glory. Moses' and Elijah's presence also symbolically represent the Law and the Prophets, demonstrating that all of the Old Testament up until now had been pointing to Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and now, in a vivid illustration of the Communion of the Saints, Moses and Elijah encourage Jesus in His Mission to fulfil those Scriptures.
Peter then offers to build the tents; as St. Mark's Gospel tells us, "He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified" (Mark 9:6). The proper response--indeed, the only response--to the revelation of God's glory, is reverential fear. Peter speaks, though, seemingly out of a desire to involve himself in the event, and at that, the bright cloud descends, barring from them the majestic vision. And out of the cloud, the Voice of God is heard, saying "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him" (Matt. 17:5). The Father reaffirms His approval of the Son which He had voiced at Jesus' Baptism, and then adds the command to listen to Jesus. Of what purpose is intimacy with the Lord if we refuse to follow His commands?
As though Peter, James, and John were not scared enough, at the Voice, they fell prostrate on the ground from fear. Then Jesus, full of love and compassion, touched them and told them not to be afraid. When they got up, mercifully, the intense vision had vanished from their eyes--but never from their hearts, as Peter himself would remark, "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 honour 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" (2 Peter 1:16-18).
The vision remained, making sure that "when the people hear Me speaking with You, they may always have faith in You, also" (Ex. 19:9--applied to Christ).
May we always grow in the reverential fear of the Lord and in piety, those gifts of the Holy Spirit which we received through the laying on of hands.
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)