The Transfiguration is Encouragment For Us
by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
As we follow Christ further into the wilderness of Lent, our Gospel for this Sunday presents us with a bit of a surprise: The transfiguration. We might have expected a passage about prayer, fasting, or almsgiving, or perhaps repentance. Instead, we have Mark 9:2-10, where Peter, James and John behold the glory of God radiating through Christ’s humanity.
Here on the mountaintop, just like for Moses of old and countless others, God manifests himself in thundering word, veil of cloud and dazzling light. Beyond all doubt, we know that Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father, God who fulfills the law and the prophets represented by Moses and Elijah.
It’s important to remember here that Peter, James and John aren’t seeing a “light show” put on by Jesus simply for entertainment. Rather, for the first time they’re seeing Christ as he really is. What does Christ’s humanity look like completely united to his divinity? The transfiguration. In it we catch a glimpse of our destiny, too. What will the resurrected body look like? Where sin, death and pain will no longer hold sway as our humanity comes fully alive in the unconquerable love of God? The transfiguration.
But why do we have this passage in Lent? Why does the church give this to us for reflection now?
Consider: Many scholars typically hold that Jesus made himself manifest in this way to Peter, James and John in order to strengthen their resolve for his coming death on the cross. Christ knew that his death would shake his apostle’s faith, so he gives them insight into his divinity and a preview of the power of the resurrection to bolster their hearts. It’s a promissory note of great hope: The worst thing in the world, the death of God in Jesus Christ, can be redeemed and transformed by the Holy Spirit in the resurrection.
We know this reminder was necessary, given what follows in between the transfiguration and the crucifixion: Peter flakes out and denies Jesus, the rest run away save John, who endures at least to the end. The resurrection finds them cowering in defeat and fear, in need of hope and redemption. Only with it will they become saints. We glimpse exactly that promised redemption in the transfiguration.
This can be a great help for us in the season of Lent, as well. The transfiguration is meant for our encouragement. How so?
Most Catholics typically pick some sort of personal penance to practice over the 40 days of Lent. “Giving up something” is always popular. Other options, deeper and more effective still, are things like attending daily Mass or establishing virtue through a disciplined habit of prayer or personal exercise, etc.
Yet by now, we’re two weeks into Lent. For most, the novelty of those penances has worn off. Many people have already caved and eaten that chocolate bar, fallen asleep in their holy hour or blown off the gym. We’re just like Peter and the apostles. In the sight of the cross, we often scatter. We fail. Yet God can even use this failure to remind us just how much we need his grace.
The transfiguration is encouragement: redemption and the promise of that same glory of God’s love is held out to us as well. So, whether Lent is already weighing on you or not, take heart in the transfiguration and our humanity fully alive in God. That’s our future, too. If you’re still keeping your resolutions, great. Make a good confession soon and continue on in grace. If you’ve slipped up along the way, then make a confession anyway, get back on the horse and allow God to continue his graced work in you.