02.28.2021 Second Sunday of Lent

"The Transfiguration"


Peter Paul Rubens 1577-1640 Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy 1605

The upper part of the painting: Jesus is shown on top of Mount Tabor in a gleaming snow-white robe with the prophets Moses and Elijah next to him. The clouds behind Jesus are illuminated. Jesus raises his arms and looks up towards God. Below Jesus are three of his disciples, from left to right, James, Peter and John. They cover their faces with their hands as the sky is far too bright for their eyes. The lower part: The nine disciples of Jesus who did not climb the mountain are on the left side. They try to heal a young man who is possessed by an evil spirit. The figure in the blue robe on the bottom left is probably Matthew. He is seen consulting a book but evidently cannot find the solution to cure the young man. The disciples are unable to heal the young man.

Lectio Mark 9: 2-10 2 “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’. 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus’. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean”. Meditatio

Context

When we described the narrative of the Transfiguration in the Gospel of Matthew (April 16th, 2020) we said that this text “works like a hinge in Matthew’s Gospel. Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Son of God stands as if it where the ‘geographical centre’ of the Gospel”. This same narrative in the Gospel of Mark is again located almost exactly at the mid-point of the Gospel. The Transfiguration is the turning point of Jesus’ ministry. Until now, Jesus has been teaching and healing, now he began his journey to Jerusalem, where he will die.

Parallels with the Book of Exodus

Three men accompanied Moses

Mark 9: 2 “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves”. Exodus 24: 9 “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up”.


A cloud covered the mountain for six days, and God spoke from the cloud

Mark 9: 2, 7 “Six days later” … “Then a cloud overshadowed them”. Exodus 24: 16 “The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses from the cloud”.


Moses saw, at least in part, God’s glory

Mark 9: 3 “His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them”. Exodus 33: 18. 20. 23 “Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray’. “‘But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live’” … “‘I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen’”.

The face of Moses shone dazzlingly bright

Mark 9: 3 “His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them”. Exodus 34: 30 “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him”.


On coming down from the mountain, Moses encountered faithless fellow country men

Mark 9: 14-29 “When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them”. Exodus 32:7-8 “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it’”.


The Text


“Six days later”.

The Old Testament associates the number ‘7’ to: 1. Ritual observances[1];

2. The Temple furnishings[2];

3. The Sabbath as:

the seventh day of the week[3];

a day with sacred significance from the beginning of Creation[4].

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves”. Mark emphasizes the fact that, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus leads these three “apart”, and “by themselves”. This double reference points out to two facts: 1. That we are about to witness an event of great significance; 2. That Jesus creates an atmosphere of privacy and closeness with those chosen to

accompany him.

“Up to a high mountain”. By refraining from giving concrete details about a particular location, Mark highlights the theological/spiritual importance of the event. In this case, a high mountain is the place where people encounter God. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes up mountains to call and appoint the twelve, and to pray[5]. The high mountain is definitely more important for its theological significance than for its geographical position.

“He was transfigured in front of them”. Metemorphothe is the Greek word used in this passage. The word metamorphosis derives from this Greek term. It describes a radical transformation. However, what takes place at the ‘Transfiguration’ is more an ‘unveiling’ than a ‘transformation’. It reveals the true identity of Jesus[6]. The disciples are invited to witness the unveiling of the glory of Jesus.

“His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them”[7]. The Book of Daniel portrayed God dressed in white garments[8]. Likewise, Jesus, the Son of God, is dressed in the same colour, signifying dignity, majesty and holiness[9].

“There appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus”. Moses lived before Elijah and was the more important of the two. Mark, however, names Elijah first because God had promised to send Elijah before the coming of the day of the Lord[10]. Matthew and Luke, who both had the Gospel of Mark as one of their key sources, change Mark’s order, placing Moses before Elijah[11].

“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here’”. It seems that Peter is struggling to make sense of the true identity of Jesus. First, he called him ‘Messiah’ but here Peter calls Jesus ‘Rabbi’, a title which means far less about who Jesus actually was.

“Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”. The three ‘dwellings’ (skenas) are booths such as those in which the People of Israel dwelt to mark the Feast of Tabernacles[12], to commemorate the Exodus and the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness[13].

“He did not know what to say, for they were terrified”. The proposal of Peter missed the mark because: • Peter was trying to prolong this overwhelming experience rather than getting back

to the ordinary day-to-day work of discipleship; • Peter was proposing equality between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, not realizing that

Moses and Elijah were subordinate to Jesus. • Peter was trying to take charge, to gain control of the situation when he should be

just watching and listening. This idea gains credibility from Verse 7, where the voice

from the cloud tells the Disciples to ‘listen’ to Jesus.

“A cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice”. The Greek word “overshadow” (Episkiazousa) is a verb in the New Testament that is used to describe the power of the Most High overshadowing Mary[14], which resulted in her conceiving the child who would be the Son of God. Here this word reveals the generative power of the Spirit of God.

“‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’” At his Baptism God addressed Jesus as the “Beloved”, now, the voice from heaven is addressed to the Disciples and recalls the words of the ‘Jewish Creed’: “Listen, Israel”. These words fulfil the prophecy Moses gave to the people of Israel[15]. The Transfiguration is the moment when, at least temporarily and until the Resurrection of Jesus, the Disciples were given a glimpse of his glory. Only after the resurrection will the Disciples begin to understand fully that the way to glory is through suffering.

“Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus’”. Only Jesus is needed. The Disciples will never be left alone. The Gospel of Mark, after the description of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, ends with the following words: “The Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it”[16]. In this way the Gospel of Mark affirms the continued presence of Christ in human history.

“As they were coming down the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” We cannot live forever on the mountaintop. It is necessary to descend into the everyday world of work and responsibility. God calls us to live in the midst of the world. We already talked about the ‘Messianic Secret’ in the Gospel of Mark. The real identity of Jesus and the style of life He chose as Messiah will only be fully displayed when Jesus hangs on the Cross: He is the Suffering Servant of Yahweh who, by his death, has saved the world.

Oratio PETER REFLECTS

(Rome 64 AD) “I know my death is imminent, the voice of the Lord has made it clear. But there's a voice I still remember from the mountain years ago.


After Elijah, after Moses, after the face of Jesus so beautifully bright, and his clothes so impossibly white. Yes, it's a voice I still hear, when hope sometimes grows dim: This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him”.

By Harvey Martin


Contemplatio

Jesus invites us all individually to a place where, like with Peter, James and John, we can contemplate his glorious countenance.

At the beginning of Lent the Church invites us to taste the consolation of seeing the glory of God in Jesus, before we see his face disfigured by the sufferings inflicted upon him.

The consolations that we may experience are not an excuse to evade our responsibilities to take care of the needy in our midst.

We take the place of Peter and see how unprepared we are to fully understand the overwhelming beauty of the manifestation of God in history.

In the same measure that Jesus calls us to the top of the mountain, He also invites us to come down and get actively involved in the affairs of the world so as to make God’s Kingdom present.

When we meet with disappointment, when nothing seems to work out the way we expect or want, let us recall those moments when the Spirit led us to experience a reality beyond the difficulties of this world.

The Season of Lent teaches us how to nourish our hope: through the experience of the Cross we will be led, like Jesus, to the glory of the resurrection.


[1] Genesis 21:29-30; Exodus 29:30-37; 34:18; Numbers 23, 28 [2] Exodus 25:31-37; 1 Kings 7:17; Ezekiel 40:22 [3] Exodus 16; 20:11; 31:14-16; 35:2 [4] Genesis 2:2-3; 5:7, 25 [5] Mark 3: 13; 6: 46. [6] Luke 1: 31-35; John 1: 1-4 [7] Ecclesiastes 9: 8: “Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head”. Revelation 3: 4: “Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy”. [8] Daniel 7:9: ““As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire”. [9] Philippians 2: 9-11 [10] Malachi 4: 5: “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes”. [11] Matthew 17: 3; Luke 9: 30. See how Matthew and Luke change the order of names: “Moses and Elijah”. [12] Leviticus 23:42-44: “You shall live in booths (skenas) for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord”. [13] Exodus 13: 21; 24: 15ff. Daniel 7: 13; Mark 9:7; 13: 26; 14: 62; Luke 21: 27; Revelation 1: 7; 14: 14-16 [14] Luke 1: 35: “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God”. [15] Deut. 18: 15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet”. Cf. Acts 3: 22; Acts 7: 37 (a text of special importance for the First Christian Community as attested by the reference in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles). [16] Mark 16: 20

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