A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

An Effective Change

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael, depicting Christ miraculously discoursing with Moses and Elijah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Years ago, I remember hiking in a forested area near the ocean.  It was late afternoon when I exited the forest and wound up standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  In fact, the timing couldn’t have been better.  The sun was beginning to set and there were clouds scattered across the sky.

The multi-hued clouds gave off a very colorful display, and I was amazed at the wonderful sight that I was then witnessing.  It was as if I had walked out of darkness into shining light.  It was as if nature had been transformed.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 9:28-36), Peter, James, and John undergo a somewhat similar experience.  That is to say, they see something overwhelming and beautiful.  They see the “transfiguration” of Jesus.  This means that Jesus was transf0rmed physically before their eyes.  In their vision they saw him in glory because he was on his journey to Jerusalem where was was to suffer and die.  The disciples saw him “in glory” which gave them some hope for what was going to come in Jerusalem.

Moses and Elijah, two Old Testament individuals, the former representing the Law and the latter representing prophecy, were present in the vision as well.  Soon after a could appeared over the group and a voiced was heard to day, “This is my beloned Son.  Listen to him.”  Neverthess, they all kept their silence.

What really happened?  If we examine the symbolism, we will have a better understanding.  I would like to focus on three items:  mountain, cloud, and God’s voice.  First of all, the mountain which is often seen in the Bible as the “meeting place” between heaven and earth.  It appears that when a mountain appears in a narrative, then something special is about to happen.

For example.  Moses was the mediatior for the foundational covenant between God and his people Israel.  This took place on “Mount” Sinai (Exodus 19).  In the case of Elijah, there was a contest between him and the priests of Baal to see whose god had more power.  In the contest, it was Elijah’s god who won (I Kings 18:20-40).  This happened on “Mount” Carmel.  And then, of course, there was the case of Jesus.  He came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it .  This took place at the Sermon on the “Mount” (Matthew 5). 

The second item was the cloud.  In the Old Testament, the cloud was the sign of God’s presence.  God’s presence was a key to Israels’ theology.  It was the divine presence that gave the people assurance and support.  Most  likely divine presence was a continuation of the Christmas promise of Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with us”).  Because it was at Christmas that God came down in the person of Jesus to be with his people.

Thirdly, there is the divine voice from the cloud.  As at Jesus’ baptism so in the transfiguration scene, God’s voice came out of the cloud affirming Jesus and giving him support.  In today’s Gospel, the divine voice says, “This is my beloved Son.  LISTEN  to him.”

Our listening to Jesus depends upon knowing where our “mountain” is.  That is, the meeting point between God and ourselves.   Listening depends also on the “divine voice” coming from the “cloud.”  Affirming God’s presence is crucial for our service to others. 

This means proclaiming justice, manifesting compassion, and expressing forgiveness.  We pray not only for open ears but for open hearts as well to hear  God’s command to listen to Jesus who said it so well.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Only then can we be transformed from what we were to what we can be.

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