Greetings on this the Second Sunday of Lent.
A late arrival. I’ve been busy but that would be half the story. The other half is taking the time to produce a helpful writing. It is never my intention to have a following, as it were, in the Internet space. I fit neither the classic book publisher style nor the modern pithy writing style common for the internet. I am here simply to write. It improves my own understanding of our faith. It improves how and what I communicate. It has on occasion and perhaps not often enough helped others in their faith journey directly.
It is also my own Transfiguration. Is that a scandalous comment to you? You don’t understand. In today’s language we would say my writing reveals my thoughts and my person. What I hold dear and worthy of instruction. Who I love and how I love. Jesus’ Transfiguration reveals the divine thought, divine person, divine instruction and the divine who and how to love.
Readings: GN 12:1-4A; PS 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 TM 1:8B-10; MT 17:1-9
The Transfiguration is a fixed part of the liturgical readings. It is always read on the 2nd Sunday of Lent using one of the three Synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is also celebrated as a Feast on August 6th of each year. One is free to think that the Transfiguration would be preached perhaps differently given the contrasts of the seasons Lent and Ordinary time. It would be advantageous to read Exodus chapters 32-34.
Jesus Identifies with his Ancestors
The event on Mount Hermon (or traditionally Mount Tabor) is a recapitulation of Moses on the mountain.
The sequence of events on the mountaintop is meant to invoke the common memory of the Jewish people the experiences of Moses.
Jesus is the new Moses.
Further, one can make cross reference to Face glow of Moses (Ex 34.29), and the dazzling white clothes of the one human before the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:9).
The invocation is clear. Jesus is the new Moses, the new Intercessor. Jesus is the Anointed One. Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus is identifying with the terrible circumstances confronting the people. The people had violated the Covenant. While Moses was receiving the Law tablets they have been making the golden calf. When Moses arrived with the tablets of the Law, the law was symbolically smashed to the ground as a sign not of God’s break but the effect of the people filial turning away.
After Moses intercedes things are restored in a most marvelous way. The Lord, not wanting to journey with the Israelites, is persuaded by Moses to accompany them. ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’ (Ex 33:14). Thus the journey begins and the meeting tent and the cloud descends and ascends according to the stages of the journey.
Moses begs ‘Let me see your Glory’ (See Exodus 33: 18-23 for this marvelous exchange). The Lord shows Moses goodness but only his back may he see and live. Later Moses speaks with the Lord in the meeting tent Face to Face as Friends speak to one another. They are breath to breath. And yet even then the people could not look at Moses. His countenance was of one who is aglow with the effects of being in the presence of God. He had to cover his face with a veil so people could approach him.
Jesus Joins the Human Exodus
Thus the Transfiguration is a joining together into the Exodus journey through the desert toward Canaan, which is the Promised Land. Jesus, in the current time, joins the journey of the human exodus. We were once in slavery in Egypt too, in a manner of speaking, but now journey to a New Jerusalem.
The challenges like that of Meribah and Massah are before us. Jesus is the new Joshua who will guide us and who will fight our battles for us.
Jesus Unites Heaven and Earth
Witness of the event includes members of Heaven and Earth, all living and numbered at five. This is a formula of authenticity.
Moses and Elijah witness and are disciples in Heaven. Peter, James and John are apostles on Earth making five in total. At the number of five followers we can say Jesus is Rabbi or teacher. Jesus is the binding agent of Heaven and Earth.
Jesus in his person is the giver of the Law in the fullest sense of the Law and Word. There are no tablets but voice alone. Jesus wrote nothing in his life. He read and taught from the Torah, Prophets, Wisdom and Psalms all written on scrolls. But Jesus, the final word, speaks. Law has become flesh.
Jesus is Attested by Theophany
The theophany (This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him) is the attesting of the Father. Jesus does not claim his Sonship rather he is attested to by the Father. God the Father covers the Meeting Tent again in a cloud and speaks.
Jesus reveals the face of God. If Moses saw his back, Peter, James and John saw his face and lived.
Filled with fear the apostles were overcome (just like the people at the mountain of old).
But Jesus touched them. Touched them! Get up and do not be afraid. When they looked up they saw only Jesus.
Only Jesus. Only Jesus.
The incarnation and the transfiguration bring about a double gift. Although we glow with the effects of being in the presence of Jesus we are no longer in need to hide our face. Rather the glow is approachable even as Jesus is approachable. Grace is no longer bound to mystery alone but mysteriously freed in the incarnation.
Jesus Renews the Tabernacle Life
The Lord God tabernacled with the People on their journey through the desert of Sin. Jesus is the renewal of that tabernacle life.
The Covenant is renewed. This renewal is to bring about the ultimate purpose of Covenant. To enter into the Eternal presence of God forever and to bring about the final victory over the desert experiences of Meribah and Massah (quarreling and testing). The Covenant is ultimately the attestation of the faithfulness and trustfulness of God in both the acts of mercy and the efficacious effects of mercy.
Just beyond the reading are these twin accounts. Jesus instructs the apostles that the Son of Man must suffer at the hands of the leadership and will raise from the dead (suffer = propitiation for sin and raise up = final effect of mercy). Then Jesus is recorded healing a possessed boy and teaching that our faith is perverse (and needing refinement). See Matthew 17:9-22 which immediately follow the Transfiguration.
We need to be accompanied on our journey. Our faith is weak and our trust is slight. We are wandering and wondering if any of this is real.
Tabernacle with Jesus
But all is well.
Jesus is tabernacling with us!
He is our Rabbi, King, Prophet, Moses. He’ll renew our faith, journey with us to our personal and corporate Jerusalem. He is our sacrifice and burnt offering which we cannot supply from the elements alone but only from the divine as source. He will strengthen our faith, reinforce our trust and make us glow like Moses in friendship face to face, breath to breath.
Peace be with you,