Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
2 Peter 1:16-19
This Feast was celebrated in the East starting in the forth centuries but not commonly in the West until the tenth century. One wonders why such a significant event in the life of Jesus was not celebrated in the universal Church until 1456 when Pope Callixtus III established August 6 as the date of its celebration.
The Transfiguration is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but not in John’s gospel. The first three gospel writers place the event in a similar context. We are in the middle of the Gospel accounts and following Jesus is taking on an accelerated pace. The context is important. Ten verses before, and eight days prior, Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" Then he asks them, "Who do you say I am?" Peter responds, "You are the Messiah, the Christ." Peter was correct but, unfortunately, his notion of the Messiah was a universe away from how Jesus understood himself. For the first time Jesus tells his disciples that the Messiah would suffer greatly, be rejected by the religious leaders, be killed and on the third day rise again. The disciples could not accept or imagine a suffering Messiah. Their Messiah was to be triumphant, successful, powerful and protected from suffering and death. Therefore, the disciples would share in the Messiah’s glories and privileges. As they were trying to get their heads around the idea of a suffering Messiah, Jesus further confused them by saying that they would have to be ready to walk the same road.
The Transfiguration happened a week after Jesus talked about a suffering Messiah. Can you imagine how confused, disillusioned and depressed the disciples felt…and maybe even angry? We know they didn’t get over these feelings completely until after the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost. Perhaps the Transfiguration helped. Jesus is suddenly transformed, dazzlingly bright. Moses and Elijah appear in conversation with Jesus. A cloud comes down upon them (more than a change in weather conditions) and a voice speaks, "This is my Beloved Son; listen to him." Here is the supreme endorsement of Jesus as the Messiah. Yes, listen to him, even when he says what you don’t like to hear or don’t understand. God confirms his Son as the suffering Messiah.
We prefer success, applause, power and to be spared suffering. The way of Jesus embraces failure, rejection, weakness and suffering. Like Peter, James and John, we also need our moments with Jesus, hearing a voice speaking to us, "You are my beloved son/daughter no matter your experience of suffering or rejection or failure." We pray to hear in our hearts those words of support and to be encouraged to continue as faithful disciples of the suffering Messiah.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.