THE TRANSFIGURATION EVENT OF CHRIST: WAS IT NECESSARY?
HOMILY FOR SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C. Readings: Genesis 15:5-12,17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1 and Luke 9:28-36.
Traditionally, every second Sunday of lent, the church reflects on the transfiguration of Christ. This event gives us a glimpse of the reward that comes after every cross and it gives us courage to forge ahead. It provides us answers to innumerable questions about our faith in Christ, it gives us a clue on what eschatology is by confirming the reality of heaven and the reward for the just and faithful, as all our fasting, prayers, penance, almsgiving and self-denial during this season of lent shall never go unrewarded.
The first reading and the gospel have a lot in common, as both involve the revelation of God and the promise of hope. While God brought Abram outside in the first reading and asked him to look towards heaven, Christ in the gospel took some of his disciples to the mountain so they can have a glimpse of heaven. Due to Abram’s faith and belief in God, God revealed to him the glory and greatness that will come to him. Similarly, Christ revealed to the disciples the glory of God that awaits those who believe in him. We may ask, what actually led to this revelation?
The three Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) place the transfiguration event immediately after Peter’s declaration of the identity of Jesus when he asked, “Who do the crowd say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” after various responses, Peter said, “You are the Messiah” (Luke 9:18-20). Though the Jewish understanding of the messiah is one who will be a conqueror, who will neither end in agony on the cross, nor suffer. With this, Christ realized his mission was at stake and must let them know the type of messiahship he represents, the Messiah that must go to Jerusalem to suffer, which is contrary to their general belief of the Messiah. This became the hardest truth for them, the choice of following Christ and the cost of discipleship, to deny oneself, take up one’s cross and follow Christ.
As typical Jews who believed in the theology of retribution, they had no idea of the reward of following Christ, they were not so sure if any reward was attached to the cross of Christ. It was because of their doubt that Christ took with him Peter, John and James to the mountain eight days after their responses according to Luke’s account, to have a glimpse of the reward of their sufferings. Perhaps, Luke is tying the transfiguration event to the resurrection, which happened on the eight day, the day after the Sabbath. To clear the doubt of the disciples that the messiah has to suffer, Moses and Elijah had to appear to them in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. As if that was not enough, the voice of God from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).
Importantly, “As Christ was praying the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white” (v.29). At this point, the appearance of Moses and Elijah became so significant as they represent the Law and the Prophets. With this event, we recall the story of Moses who encountered God at Sinai as a “devouring fire on the top of the mountain” (Ex. 24:17) “and whose face shone brightly that he found it so necessary to wear a veil” (Ex. 34:29-35). There are many parallels between Moses in Exodus 24 and Jesus at the Transfiguration. Both incidents occurred on the mountain; both involve Moses; in both incidents, God spoke from the cloud and both express the glory of the Lord and inspire fear. In Deut. 18:15 Moses promised that God will raise up a prophet like him and in the Transfiguration, Luke understood Christ as the new Moses as the Son of God, and as Moses came to set the people of Israel free, Christ came to set people free from sin.
While Matthew and Mark tell us Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, Luke is the only gospel that tells us of the content of their discussion, “They spoke of his exodus, which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem” (9:31). This also provides a parallel with Moses, who led the Exodus from Egypt, and the Exodus which Moses and Elijah are speaking here is the death of Jesus Christ, “which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (v.31). While the Exodus from Egypt led God’s people to the Promised Land, the Exodus of Christ will lead us to the Kingdom of God and the Transfiguration event reveals the glory of God’s Kingdom to these three privileged disciples.
There are some lessons contained in the transfiguration event of Christ. Firstly, Christ is the Son of God. Secondly, good things do not come easily, so there is need for hard work and thirdly, there must be Good Friday before Easter Sunday. Invariably, no cross, no crown. St Paul in the second reading urges us not to walk as enemies to the cross of Christ.Let us not set for ourselves earthly things like Peter thought of building booths. “Our common wealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20).
The Transfiguration event became necessary in order to strengthen the belief and hope of the disciples in the glory of God. Our take home message is to listen to Christ as He speaks to us through this event. He tells us that the place of the cross is central in our salvation and as heaven remains a gift for all, we must purchase it with the price of the cross. Let us not reject the cross but examine ourselves during this season of lent to see if our Christianity is the type without the cross or if we carry our crosses alone or implore Christ to carry it with us. In view of this, I will invite you to solemnly sing the hymn of the old rugged cross, written by George Bennard in 1912:
“On the hill far away, stood the old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till life’s trophies at last I lay down, I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.” Peace be with you!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ