Gen 12:1-4a; II Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9
Homily starter anecdotes: # 1: “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” There is a mysterious story in 2 Kings that can help us understand what is happening in the Transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram, and Elisha, the man of God, is using his prophetic powers to reveal the strategic plans of the Aramean army to the Israelites. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy, but when he learns the truth, he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha’s servant is the first to discover that they are surrounded and fears for his master’s safety. He runs to Elisha and says, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” The prophet answers “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But who would believe that, when the surrounding mountainside is covered with advancing enemy troops? So, Elisha prays, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opens the servant’s eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha’s disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe, but the invading army was totally humiliated. (Fr. Munacci) (Fr. Tony) (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is metamorphosis or transformation. The readings invite us to work with the Holy Spirit to transform our lives by renewing them during Lent, and to radiate the grace of the transfigured Lord around us by our Spirit-filled lives. The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain reminds us that the way of the cross leads to Resurrection and eternal life and that the purpose of Lent is to help us better to enter into those mysteries.
Scripture readings summarized: Both the first and second readings present salvation history as a response to God’s call, a call going out to a series of key persons beginning with Abraham and culminating with Jesus Christ and His Apostles. Faith is presented here as the obedient response to the call of God which opens up channels for the redemptive action of God in history, thus transforming the world. In answering this call, both Abram and Saul broke with the experiences of their past lives and moved into an unmapped future to become new “people of the Promise,” for a new life. The first reading presents the change or transformation of the patriarch Abram from a childless pagan tribesman into a man of Faith in the One God. This, years later, leads to God’s transforming his name from Abram to Abraham, and making him, as promised, the father of God’s chosen people, Israel. The second reading, taken from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, explains the type of Lenten life-transformation expected of us. Today’s Gospel describes Jesus’ Transfiguration during prayer on a mountain.
First reading: Genesis 12:1-4 explained: The reading from Genesis explains how blind obedience to God transforms the childless and pagan Abram into a believer in the one true God, and, later in his story, from Abram into the Abraham who became the prototype of trusting Faith and the father of God’s Chosen People. Blind obedience to God at His command transformed childless Abram into the Patriarch Abraham, a believer in the one God. Today’s passage is really the first encounter between Abram and God. Abram, a pagan, was prosperous in land and livestock, but he had no children, and that, to people of his time, was the most serious of all possible deprivations. So God challenged him with an offer: “I will make of you a great nation.” But God’s requirements were absolute: “Go forth from the land of your kin.” The requirements were to become even more absolute when, after Abraham finally had a son, God asked him to sacrifice that same son (Genesis 22:1-18). God asks us, too, to leave our old life of sin behind, to go forth with Him into a period of repentance, renewal of life and transformation, and to give Him the whole of our being in loving surrender forever.
The second reading: II Timothy 1:8-10 explained: St. Paul’s letter to Timothy explains the type of Lenten life-transformation expected of us. We should be ready to bear hardship for the Gospel’s sake, and to be thankful to God for our call to holiness, not trusting in our own merits but in grace. “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” This passage has the following Lenten themes: a) bearing hardship for the sake of the Gospel; b) understanding that we are called not because of our own good works, but by undeserved grace; c) allowing God to make our belief, that we were drawn into Jesus from before time began, the central reality in our daily living; and d) facing death while hoping for immortality, a share in the Resurrection. The phrase “manifest through the appearance of our Savior,” meaning after Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, may also be a reference to today’s Gospel story of Jesus’ Transfiguration, traditionally read on the second Sunday of Lent.
Gospel exegesis: The objectives and the time of the Transfiguration: The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to consult his Heavenly Father in order to ascertain His plan for Our Lord’s suffering, death and Resurrection. The secondary aim was to make Jesus’ chosen disciples aware of His Divine glory, so that they might discard their worldly ambitions about a conquering political Messiah. A third purpose was to strengthen their Faith and Hope and to encourage them to persevere through the future ordeal (CCC #568). The Transfiguration took place in late summer, probably in AD 29, just prior to the Feast of Tabernacles. Hence, the Orthodox tradition celebrates the Transfiguration at about the time of the year when it actually occurred in order to connect it with the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles. Western tradition celebrates the Transfiguration twice, first at the beginning of Lent with the Gospel account and second on August 6 with a full Feast Day liturgy.
The location of the Transfiguration was probably Mount Hermon in North Galilee, near Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus had camped for a week before the Transfiguration. The 9200-foot mountain was desolate. The traditional oriental belief that the transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor is based on Psalm 89:12. Mount Tabor, on the other hand, is a hill in the south of Galilee, less than 1000 feet high with a Roman fort on top of it, an unlikely place for solitude and prayer. But, says modern Bible scholar John McKenzie “It is far more probable that this mountain, like the mountain of the Sermon (Mt 5:11) has no geographical location. It is the symbolic mountain on which the events of Sinai are re-enacted in the life of the new Moses.”
The scene of Heavenly glory: The disciples received a preview of the glorious figure Jesus would become at Easter and beyond. While praying, Jesus was transfigured into a shining figure, full of Heavenly glory. This reminds us of Moses and Elijah who also experienced the Lord in all His glory. Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush at Mount Horeb (Ex 3:1-4). After his later encounter with God, Moses’ face shone so brightly that it frightened the people, and Moses had to wear a veil over his face (Ex 34:29-35). The luminosity of the face of Moses is also meant to signal the loving, welcomed invasion of God. Into his soul. The Jews believed that Moses was taken up in a cloud at end of his earthly life (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4. 326). Elijah had traveled for forty days to Mt. Horeb on the strength of the food brought by an angel (1 Kgs 19:8). At Mt. Horeb, Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the glory of the Lord passed over him (1 Kgs 19:9-18). Finally, Elijah, was taken directly to Heaven in a chariot of fire without experiencing death (2 Kgs 2:11-15). In addition, “Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt, received the Torah on Mount Sinai and brought God’s people to the edge of the Promised Land. Elijah, the great prophet in northern Israel during the ninth century B.C., performed healings and other miracles and stood up to Israel’s external enemies and the wicked within Israel. Their presence in Matthew’s Transfiguration account emphasizes Jesus’ continuity with the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) in salvation history.” (Fr. Harrington S. J.)
These representatives of the Law and the Prophets, foreshadowed Jesus who is the culmination of the Law and the Prophets. Both prophets were initially rejected by the people but were vindicated by God. The Jews believed that these men did not die, because God Himself took Moses (Dt 34:5-6), and Elijah was carried to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:11). So, the implication is that although God spared Moses and Elijah the normal process of death, He did not spare His Son. Peter’s offer to pitch three tents (vs. 4) is an allusion to the feast of Sukkoth (Tabernacles, Tents, Booths) which commemorated the wilderness period when the Israelites lived in tents (Dt 16:13-15).
God the Father’s Voice from the Cloud: The book of Exodus describes how God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from the Cloud. God often made appearances in a cloud (Ex 24:15-17; 13:21-22; 34:5; 40:34; 1 Kgs 8:10-11). I Kgs 8:10 tells us how, by the cover of a cloud, God revealed His presence over the Ark of the Covenant and in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day of its dedication. The Jews generally believed that the phenomenon of the Cloud would be repeated when the Messiah arrived. God the Father, Moses and Elijah approved the plan regarding Jesus’ suffering, death and Resurrection. God’s words from the Cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him,” are the same words used by God at Jesus’ baptism (3:17). They summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration: on this mountain, God reveals Jesus as His Son — His beloved — the One in Whom He is well pleased and to Whom we must listen. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #556, underlines the implication of the Lord’s baptism and his Transfiguration for our life: “On the threshold of the public life: the baptism; on the threshold of the Passover: the Transfiguration. Jesus’ baptism proclaimed the mystery of the first regeneration, namely, our Baptism. The Transfiguration is the sacrament of the second regeneration: our own Resurrection.”
Life messages: (1) The Transubstantiation in the Holy Mass is the source of our strength. At the shortage of wine during the wedding of Cana, Jesus changed water into wine: one substance became another substance. In each Holy Mass our offering of bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine. Hence, just as Jesus’ Transfiguration strengthened the Apostles in their time of trial, each Holy Mass should be our source of Heavenly strength against our own temptations and our source for the renewal of our lives during Lent. In addition, communion with Jesus in prayer and in the Eucharist, should be a source of daily transformation for both our minds and hearts. We must also be transformed by becoming humbler and more selfless, sharing love, compassion and forgiveness with others. But in our everyday lives, we often fail to recognize Jesus when he appears to us “transfigured,” hidden in someone who is in some kind of need. Jesus will be happy when we attend to the needs of that person. With the eyes of Faith, we must see Jesus in every one of our brothers and sisters, the children of God we come across each day and, by His grace, respond to Him with love and service.
(2) Each Sacrament that we receive transforms us. Baptism, for example, transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of heaven. Confirmation makes us the temples of the Holy Spirit. By the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God brings back the sinner to the path of holiness. By receiving in Faith, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, we are spiritually, and, if God wills, physically, healed and our sins are forgiven (CCC #568).
(3) A message of hope and encouragement. In moments of doubt and during feelings of despair, the expectation of our transformation in Heaven helps us to reach out to God and listen to His consoling words: “This is my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased.”
(4) We need these ‘mountain-top’ experiences in our own lives. We can share experiences like those of Peter, James and John when we spend some extra time in prayer during Lent. Perhaps we may want to fast for one day, taking only water, thus releasing spiritual energy, which in turn, can lift our thoughts to a higher plane. Such a fast may also help us to remember the starving millions in the world and make us more willing to help them. (Fr. Anthony Kadavil)