February 24, 2016
Last Sunday, our Gospel recounted the Transfiguration. And, as I do almost every year, I asked, "Why?"
Why did Peter, John, and James get this privileged glimpse into Jesus' nature? The Transfiguration has always been one of those Bible stories that I knew, but never took the time to dig into it. My thought process went something like this: "I know God is amazing. I know this, and so I guess it doesn't really surprise me that he can change His appearance, showing a more miraculous side. Sure, I suppose he could communicate with past prophets and leaders. Yeah, God the Father has and spoken to others around Jesus before at the baptism, so why not here?"
But internally, I also knew this: It's not really in God's nature to show off (the previous Sunday's gospel about the temptations of Jesus confirmed this), so there had to be a deeper meaning to the experience.
A closer reading of the verses led me to a few important insights*: Jesus led his disciples up the mountain to pray. Jesus wanted his followers to see His glory revealed in a more tangible, humanly accessible way.
The apostles probably needed encouragement at the time; the Transfiguration occurs after Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah, but also after the first prediction of his Passion (Luke 9). A lot of strong words had been spoken recently, a lot of bold declarations made, and the Transfiguration might have been God's way of reassuring these key leaders among his disciples that Jesus truly possesses the glory that comes with the title Messiah, not to mention the trustworthiness.
Moses and Elijah's presence further emphasizes the continuity of God's covenant with His people. Jesus was bringing the people into the new Promised Land as the ultimate fulfillment of God's prophecies. I also like to think Elijah's presence reflects God's playfulness: Peter had just told Jesus that some people say He is "Elijah or one of the prophets" ....Then Elijah shows up.
So we might safely assume that God wanted to reassure the apostles in a time of confusion. But I also want to point out that this whole episode is entirely unnecessary. God never has to do anything, since He is perfect and all-powerful. Likewise, he didn't have to take this opportunity to meet Peter, James, and John in the midst of the stressful public ministry they were undertaking. The Transfiguration, then, was offered as a gift, a merciful way to meet the very human needs of the apostles.
What could be a better remedy for burn-out than seeing the glory of God revealed with your own eyes?
What is so much more, we possess this gift of the Transfiguration in the Eucharist. Jesus is changed in appearance, meeting us in our humanity, even going so far as to meet us in our physical hunger. Jesus leads us to himself, and desires to show us his divinity in the holy sacrament. The Eucharist is the fulfillment of His own prophecies:
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (John 6:54)
Let's accept this gift of the Eucharist in awe and reverence, just as the apostles. Even if we, like Peter, feel unworthy or don't know what we are seeing. In short, GET TO MASS, DANGIT.
It is good that we are here.
Praised be Jesus Christ!