Transfiguration of the Lord
There’s a story of a magician doing wonderful magic tricks aboard a cruise ship. Every night, as the magician did something special, the Captain’s pet parrot would call out; “He’s a phony” “Booo” “That’s no trick.” This happened night after night until a sudden storm arose and the cruise ship sank, leaving the magician and the parrot on the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other until finally the parrot said, “O.K. I give up. What did you do with the ship?”
Talk about a shift in attitude, huh?
Many fairy tales talk of change. Remember the story of Cinderella with this young lady living in poverty who suddenly became a princess. A pumpkin became her carriage. Mice became her horses for the carriage. She was now a new person. People can be transformed too. A new job or a new name can be life-changing. For instance, did you ever see Francis Gum in a movie? How about Archibald Leach or Marion Morrison in a film? These people changed their names and their lives were transformed into stardom? Francis Gum became Judy Garland. Archibald Leach was Cary Grant and Marion Morrison became the Duke, John Wayne. Can’t imagine a movie like “True Grit” starring a guy named Marion Morrison, huh?
When the disciples saw the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, they were able to see exactly Who He was; the Son of God, the Savior of the world and they didn’t understand either. This carpenter Who walked with them for three years could now be seen as He would be seen in heaven; in all of His glory and majesty. This was the Son of God Who would soon die on the cross and rise from the dead for the forgiveness of their sins. The Risen Lord would transfigure their lives so much that they would be willing to die for their faith. Big time changes!
In the First Reading we have the example of Abraham, a man who believes in the promises of God. At a late age, when one would rather settle to a retired life he is ready to move on to the land that is promised to him. When he has no child he is ready to believe in God’s promise that his children will be as numerous as the stars of heaven! His faith is rewarded. Today’s reading tells us that while believing in God’s promises Abraham asks for a sign and God’s first covenant is made to Abraham. Life is full of promises; we make and others make promises to us, but often these are quickly broken. However, God’s promises are never broken. He is faithful because he is our God, the faithful one!
In the Second Reading, St. Paul argues that it is not observance of the Mosaic Law and circumcision that transforms people into Christians, and hence Gentiles need not become Jews to become Christians.
To bring home the message of today’s Gospel reading, let me tell you a small anecdote.
A ship …..was in a serious storm….. and in grave distress. The passengers were alarmed. One of them finally, against orders, went up to the deck and made his way to the pilot house. The pilot was at the wheel, but, seeing the man was greatly frightened; he gave him a reassuring smile. Returning to the other passengers the man said….. “I have seen the face of the pilot, …. he smiled. ….. All is well.” This very well can be the phrase with which we can understand the Transfiguration.
Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of the mountain …. and there Jesus was changed,…. transfigured …. with a white glow surrounding him that could never be duplicated on earth. And out of this glow came two people out of history, …. Elijah and Moses. The three disciples did not know what to make of this situation. But impulsive Peter said …..let us build three tents, ……three monuments to this great occasion.
Let us stay here and relish the moment. And then a voice said to them, “This is my beloved Son; ….. listen to him.” Just as they seemed not to be able to comprehend any more, everything was gone. Then Jesus told them to follow him down the mountain …. and not to tell anyone ….. of this experience. Peter, James and John could have thought to themselves ….. “We have seen the face of the pilot, All is well!”
We all have had mountain-top experiences; times when we have felt like we were on top of the world.
Perhaps you had a mountain-top experience when your children were born, or when you got married or when you received a special blessing from God. Maybe your mountain-top experience occurred as you sat quietly in prayer basking in the presence of God. Maybe God has brought you to a mountain top where you felt God was so close …. that you could almost reach out and touch him; ……a time when you saw the face of the Pilot….. and all was well.
When I think of a mountain-top experience, I cannot help but remember the Mountain Top that Martin Luther King described in his sermon that he preached in April 1968 in the city of Memphis.
The sermon was entitled, “I see the Promised Land.”
Dr. King said that he had peace. That he did not worry about anything …….. he had been to the mountaintop with God. He had no fear of the world, “For my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” The next day, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death.
But that night …. when he preached, ….He was ready to face his destiny. He was ready to face the future ….. because He had seen the face of the Pilot ….. and all was well.
This Transfiguration scene must have been one of the most exciting events in the life of Peter, James, & John – & maybe even for Moses & Elijah as well. And I am convinced that it can mean a great deal to us, too.
The Greek word translated as “transfiguration” is the word “metamor-phothe,” from which we get “metamorphosis.” As any student of biology knows, a “metamorphosis” is “a transformation, a complete change of appearance & form.” (Example: Caterpillar into a butterfly.)
Jesus certainly went through a metamorphosis – and more than once. First, he left the glories of heaven to come to earth in human form – to live with us – to share our pain & suffering, our hunger & temptations. For thirty-three and half years he lived upon the face of this earth in human form. But at the time of this scripture that we have read, Jesus coming to the end of his ministry upon this earth, & for a few minutes on a mountainside in Galilee, Peter, James, & John are privileged to see another metamorphosis, as Jesus is once again clothed in his glory, the glory of Almighty God.
Our lives are a mixture of a ‘mountain-top experience’ and a ‘valley experience.’ Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death followed by the transfiguration experience reveals this truth in no unclear terms. You can see thorns in a bush full of roses or roses in a bush full of thorns, no matter how you look at it you can’t change the truth that both, thorns and roses are before you. Life’s journey is through thorns and roses, mountains and valleys.
In the verses preceding today’s passage, Jesus already predicted his passion, suffering and death (the valley experience). He spoke about carrying one’s cross as a pre-requisite for discipleship.
Interpreted in our own life-context, the mountain-top experience is that of peace, happiness, prosperity, fame, success, physical well-being, stable relationships and a general feeling of fulfillment and contentment. The valley experience is that when things don’t seem going right in our lives, when failures and losses befall us, when we are fallen and forsaken, misunderstood and betrayed by others, when relationships threaten to break, when ‘tomorrow’ scares us in the face, when loneliness stalks us, when grief overwhelms us and life seems at its edge.
When you know that suffering is going to come upon you, it is but natural that your face will look gloomy and pale and people can notice it. But here at the Transfiguration, Jesus is looking radiant in glory (the mountain-top experience). This scene suggests that when we take up our cross in God’s name we receive strength and grace from the Lord to carry it. The voice of God “This my beloved son in whom I’m well pleased, listen to him” is not just an endorsement of the Jesus-mission of redemption but an affirmation that God is always “well pleased” when we are willing to carry our cross and follow him. When you are busy carrying your cross become also sure God is busy weaving a crown for you. Your crown is not somewhere beyond the grave, but in this life itself.
In our human experience, we are tempted just like Peter, James and John to desire the mountaintop experience and avoid the valley experience. But we really must live the valley experience if we want to see the glory of God in our lives. It is in the valley valley experience that we discover our frailties and the follies of our intelligence, when inflated egos are punctured and we discover our great need for God.
When we find it hard to trust God in the valley experience of your life, we could think of little chickens under the wings of a hen. There is darkness under its wings, the little chicks cannot see anything, yet they feel the warm, reassuring protection of their mother. As the Psalmist puts it, “The Lord will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings we will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and your rampart” (Ps 91:4).
Whether in the valley or on the mountain-top, we need the affirmation of God, for God in the valley is the same God on the mountain.
Now on this Transfiguration Sunday as we see the change in Jesus, does he see a change in us? Are you the same old disciple that you were a year ago? Has Jesus transfigured your life through faith in his death and resurrection so others see you shine for him? It has been said that if you were taken to court and accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? I hope so! That means that the Transfigured Lord has transfigured you!
The Christian life should be one of constant Transfiguration, change, and growth. If we’re in a rut, stagnating, smelly, and rotting away in sin and the same old person; something is missing. Jesus has given us his Word, prayer, worship, Holy Communion, Baptism, and Christian fellowship for the Holy Spirit to use so we will grow. Peter’s last words to his people in 2 Peter 3 were to “grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Are you a new person in Jesus? If not, why not?
Because God Is Good. . .a1l the time, he wants to see a new you, transfigured and growing and shining with a faith others can see. Imagine your family and friends seeing you as a convicted Christian! Amen..
On this beautiful Transfiguration Sunday we need to ask ourselves:
· Am I a favoured one of God doing Gods Will all the time? Or am I an unfavoured one doing my own thing in my own way?
· It is good to be here” – Do people say about me and my companionship? or is it that I get to hear “It is not safe to be here.”
· Do I transfigure situations, moments and people for the greater glory of God or do I disfigure the person by gossip, character assassination, etc.
I will use my eyes to see you in everyone I meet.
I will use my mouth to say kind things to others.
I will use my hands to help others.
I will use my mind to think only good thoughts.
I will use my heart to share your love.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.