Homily: The Transfiguration of the Lord – Cycle A
Lest anyone be confused, let me clear something up for you right away: today’s feast is not about us. It’s about Jesus and about celebrating who Jesus has been revealed to be. I know, I know… most times—especially during Ordinary Time—we can walk away from Mass on Sunday and say something like, “Okay, there’s something else that I can work on in my life as I strive to be a better Christian” or “That was interesting, what those readings said; I’m really going to try to figure out what that means and how I can apply it in my life”. Today, however, there’s none of that; it’s really all about Jesus and who Jesus has been revealed to be.
On the one hand, as a preacher, that kind of stinks. You see, it’s much easier to preach when I can take what comes to us in Sacred Scripture and then find some way to apply it to our lives: in other words, when there’s a discernable “moral to the story”. On the other hand, however, I’m kind of happy for it; because it “upsets the apple cart” a little bit and, maybe (just maybe) leads us to something even more inspiring. Therefore, if this feast is all about Jesus, then let’s dive in and see what it has to tell us.
In the book of the prophet Daniel, we are given this vivid description of a vision that Daniel experienced; and this vision was really about the end of time. The vision is given to us in two parts. In the first part, Daniel describes having seen the “Ancient One” (with a capital “A” and a capital “O”). This was common terminology for God because it pointed to two of God’s essential attributes: his eternity and his wisdom. Describing his appearance as having a “bright whiteness” indicates his absolute purity. This, however, describes more than moral purity, but rather a purity of mind and heart that enhances his wisdom. Unsullied by any impurity, therefore, the “Ancient One” is able to judge all things rightly. The flames of fire that form his throne and that surge in streams from his throne indicate the great power that he commands; and the millions who minister to him indicate the wide breadth of authority that he exercises over all things. Finally, we hear that a court is convened in his presence, indicating that the Ancient One is ready to exercise his judgment.
In the second part of the vision, Daniel describes one being presented to the Ancient One, presumably for judgment. He is described as one “like a Son of man, coming on the clouds of heaven”. “Like a Son of man…” describes someone who is human in appearance, though it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is human. The vision goes on to describe how this one receives from the Ancient One great power and authority over the entire universe and that this dominion that has been given him will be everlasting: never to be taken away or destroyed. This second part of the vision is describing the Messiah, of course: the one who, ultimately, would restore God’s kingdom on earth.
The recounting of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospels echoes the images described in Daniel’s vision. First, and most obviously, Jesus is “one like a Son of man…” who goes “up a high mountain”, which, in the ancient world, always meant “going to the heavens to meet/communicate with God”. Then, he is transfigured before Peter, James, and John, whom he took with him; and what do we see? His face “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light”. Interesting that the one whom we at first connect with the second part of Daniel’s vision is described as suddenly having an appearance of “bright whiteness”, like the Ancient One in the first part of the vision. This points to something truly amazing: that Jesus truly is “one like a Son of man”, but also that he is so much more; that he, at least, shares in the eternal life, wisdom, and power of the Ancient One, and maybe even that he is of one being with the Ancient One.
Reading further, we, of course, see that our suspicion that Jesus is the “one like a Son of man” from Daniel’s prophecy is confirmed, as Jesus not only converses with Moses and Elijah (thus, demonstrating his equality with the ancient law-giver and the greatest of Jewish prophets), but a cloud overshadows them all (indicating, of course, the “cloud of the presence” that filled the ancient temple and indicated that God had made his dwelling there) and a voice comes from the cloud declaring “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The voice declares Jesus’ divinity (this is my beloved Son) and that he has been given authority over all things (listen to him).
My friends, those who want to reduce Jesus to the level of a wise sage or a devoted charity worker have never seriously read these two passages together. Jesus is a wise sage and he is devoted to relieving the sufferings of the poor, but to reduce him to these things misses the point of who he is in himself. Jesus is God’s beloved Son, who, nonetheless, is like a Son of man: human in form, but still divine. I hope that you all can see how amazing this is: that the Ancient One—the eternal God who created all things in this incredible universe—nonetheless cares so much for us that he sent us his Son to become one with us so that we could become one with him. If there is anything in this message today that is for us, it’s this: that God didn’t come to make us nice people, but rather he came to make us like him—to transfigure us, so that we could be one with him.
My brothers and sisters, today, like every Sunday, we worship God for having humiliated himself out of love for us by taking on a human nature in order to save us from sin and death (in other words, from eternal separation from him). In a specific way, today, we worship Jesus who made his divinity known to us in his Transfiguration so that we might have the confidence to call him “Lord” and so that we might be filled with the hope of knowing that our human nature can be transformed by the divine power of God working within it. And how does that divine power come into our human nature? Well, there are seven specific ways that it comes to us. Does anybody know what those seven ways are called? Yes, the Sacraments. When we receive any one of the seven Sacraments we receive a share of God’s divine life and, thus, make it possible for our nature to be transformed—transfigured—to be like his so that we can be one with him in eternity.
Yes, my brothers and sisters, today’s feast is a celebration of Jesus and of who Jesus has been revealed to be. We celebrate because, in revealing his full nature, Jesus also revealed who we can be when his divine life dwells within us. As we place our sacrifice on this altar today, let us be mindful to unite to it our prayers of thanksgiving to God for his great mercy that brought Jesus to us, and for his divine life in which we will share more deeply when we receive this gift from this altar once again. Through the intercession of Mary and the Apostles Peter, James and John, may each of our lives be transfigured so as to show forth the splendor of God’s glory to all those around us.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – August 5th & 6th, 2017