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LENT, Year C, Sunday 21st The Transfiguration

posted 15 Feb 2016, 14:53 by Patricia Stafford   [ updated 15 Feb 2016, 14:55 ]

TEA —Text; Explanation; Application

TEXT —Luke 09: 28–36 —Jesus is Traansfigured

 

Setting

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

Jesus Transfigured

29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white.

Moses & Elijah

30 And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Eli’jah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Peter’s Offer

32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah” –– not knowing what he said.

Father’s Voice

34 As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

They Kept Silent

36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

 

 

EXPLANATION

 

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

Now about eight days” — It is not clear what exactly the “eight days” refer to. It could be the time after Peter’s act of faith in Jesus the Messiah (Lk. 9: 18–21), which was followed by Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death and his teaching that any who follow him must share in his cross. The transfiguration will endorse Jesus’ role as suffering Messiah who will die and rise again and enter into glory.

after these sayings” — The verses referred to are: [Jesus said] “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” (Lk. 9: 22–27). The transfiguration, as the text reveals, will be about Jesus’ passion and death and the disciples’ obedience to what he will teach.

he took with him Peter and John and James” — That he brings these three apostles with him shows the importance of the transfiguration. He revealed himself to them at the raising of the daughter of Jairus and he will bring them up another hill or mountain, the Mt. of Olives, to witness a different transfiguration when his countenance will be distorted by suffering and shed blood.

and went up on the mountain to pray” — Luke does not give the name of the mountain but it is a definite place because he describes it as “the mountain”.

Jesus at prayer is emphasised as a theme by Luke (Lk. 6: 12; 9: 18, 28; 11: 1; 22: 32, 41, 23: 46). Taking Peter, James and John up the mountain, the place for prayer, revelation and encounter with God, where God will bear witness to his Son, implies that this is a most important episode which Luke is about to record. We can expect that Jesus and the three apostles will encounter God in some special manner.

In view of the “sayings” in the previous verses, quoted in this commentary on this verse 28, we can presume that the encounter with God will be to strengthen Jesus in his mission now approaching its climax and enable the apostles to follow Jesus in suffering as a means to entering into glory.

 

29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white.

And as he was praying” — The transfiguration was a prayer experience for Jesus. So also were the divine encounters after his baptism (Lk. 3: 21–22).

There is no mention of the three apostles praying. They may have fallen asleep already.

the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white” — This is Luke’s way of describing the transcendent. “White” is the colour that describes light and “dazzlingly” highlights the ‘light’. Jesus is described as “the Light [from heaven, the source of light] come into the world”.

Heavenly messengers, such as the angels after the resurrection, are described as men in white garments. White garments are expressions of joy and celebration in the Bible (Lk. 24: 4).

Luke does not mention the word “transfigured” but he describes the same idea.

 

30 And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Eli’jah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.

And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Eli’jah” — Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai and Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. Both had experiences of the presence of God on mountains, Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24: 15–18) and Horeb (I Kgs. 19: 8–13). Sinai and Horeb are the same mountain or mountain range but are referred to separately. Both Moses and Elijah anointed their successors with the Holy Spirit — Moses anointed Joshua (Dt. 34: 9) and Elijah anointed Elisha (I Kgs. 19: 16–19; II Kgs. 2: 9–15).

who appeared in glory” — Moses and Elijah were also transcendent, heavenly creatures.

and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” — The subject of the conversation between Moses, Elijah and Jesus was his passion and death in Jerusalem. The Greek word used here for “departure” is ‘exodos’ which was the redemption of the People of Israel under the leadership of Moses. The real exodus was not the forty years the people of God spent in the wilderness until they crossed over into the Promised Land but the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and his ‘passing over’ through his death, resurrection and ascension into the Promised Land of heaven where he will lead his new Chosen People.

The word “accomplish” is correct but it would be more in keeping with the Greek verb to translate as “fulfil”. This verb is used (Lk. 24: 44; also 1: 20; 4: 21; 9: 50) to refer to the fulfilling of prophecy; Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about himself when he underwent his passion and death at Jerusalem.

 

32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah” –– not knowing what he said.

Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep” — The fact that the three apostles were asleep and were not wakened by Jesus to hear the conversation means that they were not to be witnesses to the discussion. Moses and Elijah did not come for the three apostles but for Jesus.

and when they wakened they saw his glory” — They saw Jesus as he is seen in his divine, post resurrection life. The “glory” of Jesus is not reflected glory, as Moses was described in the Old Testament (Ex. 34: 29); Jesus’ glory is proper to him; it is “his glory”.

and the two men who stood with him” — Moses and Elijah came to strengthen Jesus for his passion and death. They would have strengthened him by endorsing that what he was about to do was in conformity with and fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.

They did not interact with the apostles. They did not come to the mount of transfiguration for them. The fact that they saw Jesus in his glorious state would strengthen them later.

And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah”, not knowing what he said” — It would appear that the apostles fell asleep prior to Jesus’ transfiguration and before Moses and Elijah appeared. As they waken the two heavenly visitors are departing. The blustering Peter rushes in with an idea. He does not call Jesus “Lord” but “Master”, an indication that he has little or no idea of the transcendence of the transfiguration. He sees the scene as important and so wishes to prolong the transfiguration. His solution is to build three dwelling places, one for each. As the verse says, “not knowing what he said”.

Peter’s suggestion to build three tents was wrong, first because he put Jesus on the level of Moses and Elijah, second because he thought that he could contain transcendence, God’s glory, God’s majesty and power, in a man–made structure. The Father will tell Peter that his attitude to his Son is one of listening and obedience (v. 35). The presence of God is to be found in God’s word.

 

34 As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

As he said this, a cloud came”– Clouds in the Bible are symbols of God’s presence. The apostles would have known that Moses, at God’s invitation, entered a cloud on the mountain (Ex. 24: 15–18), that God during the exodus led the people of Israel in the cloud by day, that Elijah climbed Mt. Carmel and sent his servant to look for the cloud that announced the rain after the long drought.

and overshadowed them” — This is the word used in Luke 1: 35 to describe how the Holy Spirit descended on Mary at the Annunciation. The “cloud that came and overshadowed” is a reference to the Holy Spirit.

and they were afraid as they entered the cloud” — It is not clear who are meant by the double use of the word “they”. I offer this explanation:“As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them, [namely Moses and Elijah]; and they [the three apostles] were afraid as they [Moses and Elijah], entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, [to the apostles who were outside the cloud]." There is no indication that the three apostles entered the cloud.

The three apostles were “afraid” or overcome with awe as Moses and Elijah entered the cloud to return to the presence of God and glory

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen” — As seen some few lines above, the cloud symbolises the Holy Spirit. Now the voice of the Father is heard and the Son is mentioned and is present — the Holy Trinity.

Note that the “voice came out of the cloud”, indicating that the three apostles were not in the cloud.

My Son” — That Jesus is the “Son” of God is mentioned by Luke in Lk, 3: 22; 4: 41; 8: 28.

My Chosen” — This is a reference to Deuteronomy 18: 15 where Moses is speaking about a future prophet, the Christ, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; to him you must listen”. The Father declares that the future prophet will be chosen by him. Both Father and Moses say that people are to “listen” to him.

The prophet Isaiah foretold, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations”. (Is. 42: 1).

listen to him!” — The Father adds that the people are to listen to this future prophet who is his Son, his Chosen. Indeed those who do not listen will be accountable to God (Dt. 18: 19).

 

36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone” — Moses and Elijah have left and Jesus is found alone. The Law and the Prophets are replaced by Jesus. He is their fulfilment.

And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen” — When Peter proclaimed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah (Lk. 9: 20–21), he was instructed by Jesus not to tell anyone about his identity. He follows this instruction again in this passage by keeping silent “in those days” about what the three apostles had experienced. The other two apostles are one with him in this.

 

 

APPLICATION

 

1.         The Trinity:    Luke referred to the Blessed Trinity at the baptism of Jesus (Lk. 3: 21-22). That was the initiation of Jesus’ public ministry. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove and the Father spoke from heaven. The descent of the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ anointing. The Father’s words were to confirm Jesus, his Son, in his ministry. Jesus was assured that he was now ready for his mission. The Father’s words were not heard by any other person but Jesus alone. He spoke directly to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”.

At the transfiguration Father and Holy Spirit are present again. A new stage is about to begin. The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a cloud and the Father speaks from the cloud: “You are my Son, my Chosen” and then he speaks to the apostles, “Listen to him”. Jesus is being confirmed as the suffering Messiah as he enters this new phase of his life. Peter had expressed his faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus had explained to him and the others that his was a vocation-as-Messiah to suffer and so enter into glory. Now he enters his new stage as he heads for Jerusalem and his passion, death and resurrection.

2.         Who is Jesus?            The transfiguration discloses who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit who overshadows him; he is God’s Chosen for this most particular mission of redeeming the world, which was foretold in the Law and the Prophets as Moses and Elijah confirmed in speaking of his departure and which he will fulfil in Jerusalem.

Jesus is also the prophet foretold by Moses as one who would follow him (Dt. 18: 15). When Jesus gave back her son to the widow of Nain “[the crowd] glorified God, saying, ‘a great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’ (Lk. 7: 16).

3.         Jesus’ Glory   When the three apostles woke from their sleep they saw Jesus in “his glory”. This is the manner in which they will see him after his resurrection. Before his ascension Jesus’ body has certain characteristics which manifest his glory. Matter, such as doors, walls and windows, could hold him back or confine him. These are qualities mentioned in the Gospels. Many take it for granted that after his resurrection Jesus was restored to a body which had the conditions of his body prior to his resurrection.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear on this point. “Christ's body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection, as proved by the new and supernatural properties it subsequently and permanently enjoys. But during the forty days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity. Jesus' final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God's right hand. Only in a wholly exceptional and unique way would Jesus show himself to Paul "as to one untimely born", in a last apparition that established him as an apostle. (CCC, 659)

“The veiled character of the glory of the Risen One during this time is intimated in his mysterious words to Mary Magdalene: "I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." This indicates a difference in manifestation between the glory of the risen Christ and that of the Christ exalted to the Father's right hand, a transition marked by the historical and transcendent event of the Ascension” (CCC, 660).