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03.05.2023 Second Sunday of Lent


The Transfiguration

Ludovico Carracci

1555- 1619

Scottish National Gallery


The Transfiguration by Ludovico Carracci, Italian 1555- 1619. Found in the Scottish National Gallery.

On a remote mountain Jesus was transformed, appearing in a vision conversing with the Old Testament Prophets Moses and Elijah, his face radiating light and his clothes dazzling white. The stunned Disciples lie prostrate on the ground in complicated poses.

Painted around 1588, this is a typically spiritual work from the early maturity of Lodovico Carracci, who with his younger cousins Agostino and Annibale had founded a highly influential Artists’ Academy in their native Bologna earlier that decade. They fostered a new, naturalistic approach to painting, with a strong emphasis on life drawing. They are considered to have reformed Italian Art after decades of domination by the highly artificial mannerist style.

His compositions and settings are often highly contrived, and from the mid-1590s, he developed a preference for monumental figures with exaggerated gestures and expressions. Professionally he was popular, and from the late 1580s there are numerous dated and documented works.


Lectio

Matthew 17: 1-9

1“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. 3And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’. 5He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’. 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear’. 8And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead’”.


Meditatio

Context

During the Season of Lent and Easter we digress a little from the Lectio Continua (continuous reading) of the Gospel of Matthew because the Liturgy focuses on the themes proper to those Seasons. In Lent, the five Sundays are structured as follows:

First Sunday: The Temptations of Jesus;

Second Sunday: The Transfiguration of Jesus;

Third Sunday: The sign of Living Water (the Samaritan);

Fourth Sunday: The sign of Light (the healing of the man born blind); and

Fifth Sunday: The sign of Life (the resurrection of Lazarus).


The transfiguration marks the midpoint in a series of scenes that define who Jesus is. At both his Baptism and Transfiguration, the heavenly voice announces that He is God’s Son. At his Temptation, and at his Crucifixion, Jesus wrestles with the humiliation, suffering, and abandonment that He, as Son of God, must endure. Finally the resurrected Jesus claims his identity, sending his Disciples out to teach and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


In the scene leading up to the Transfiguration, Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah[1], the Son of the living God. He utterly rejects Jesus’ announcement that He will suffer and die[2]. Jesus affirms Peter’s insight but rejects his protest, calling him Satan, for tempting the Son of God to define himself by glory but not by suffering. Furthermore, He calls Peter and anyone else who wants to be his disciple to follow him on the road that leads to the Cross.


An Invitation to an Intimate Encounter with Christ

We have this scene close to the beginning of Lent, to grow in our faith understanding of this most radical and fundamental of our Christian discipleship, as it points either to Jesus’ resurrection or second coming. As it was for the Disciples who saw it before they witnessed the events of Christ’s Passion and Death, it is a sign of hope, a reminder for us of the goal of our Lenten journey.


The Transfiguration scene bears witness to an inner circle among the Twelve: Peter, James, and John. Peter would be entrusted with Christ’s flock in a special way. James would be the first apostle martyred[3]. John would write some of the most sublime words of Sacred Scripture[4]. Jesus will single them out again when He invites them to pray with him in the garden of Gethsemane at the start of his Passion[5].


Jesus was transfigured.

He is transformed before them. His face shines like the sun, and his clothes become white as light. Moses and Elijah appear and talk to Jesus. Testimony of the Law and the Prophets, respectively. Their presence at this moment, signifies that the entire Old Testament bears witness to his messianic mission that will culminate in the Cross. [6]


As in Mark and Luke, Peter says, “It is good for us to be here,” and suggests building tents for each of the three. His spontaneous intervention no doubt coming from his experience of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot or Booths, in Hebrew) a weeklong festival of overwhelming joy and lights at the time of harvest[7]. Tent-like shelters were erected annually commemorating how God’s presence dwelt in the tent of meeting and how the Israelites themselves dwelt in tents as they journeyed through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.


Peter calls Jesus “Lord,” the title that in Matthew indicates faith; he defers to Jesus’ will “if you wish”; and there is no indication at this point that he is afraid or does not know what he is saying[8].


The overshadowing cloud[9] The word of God comes to them now, not as a thunderous voice from heaven, or letters written on tablets of stone, but in the words and actions of Jesus. The Son of God speaks to them as one human speaks to another, and they rise and follow him.


A Great Fear. Matthew specifically labels this experience a vision, and the Disciples react in much the same way as Daniel did to his apocalyptic visions[10].

It remains most puzzling and incomprehensible to the Disciples what He, left alone, tells them: The Son of Man, the glorious figure awaited to conclude history, will have to face death and rise again. On the way down the mountain Jesus tells them once again that the Son of Man must suffer, and He orders them to tell no one about the vision until after He has been raised from the dead. They discuss Elijah’s role in restoring all things, and then Jesus, whose face has shone like the sun, descends into the needy human crowd and immediately heals a demon-possessed child.


Conclusion

It is no ordinary man that will be crucified on Calvary, but the beloved Son of God revealed in glory at the Transfiguration. This same glorified Son will freely submit himself to utter humiliation in order to redeem the human family[11].

The theologians Davies and Allison beautifully note the parallels. “In the one, a private epiphany, an exalted Jesus, with garments glistening, stands on a high mountain and is flanked by two religious giants from the past. All is light. In the other, a public spectacle, a humiliated Jesus, whose clothes have been torn from him and divided, is lifted upon a cross and flanked by two common, convicted criminals. All is darkness[12].

The narrative of the Transfiguration directs us away from trying to understand Jesus only as He is revealed in glory. It points us down the mountain and invites us to walk with Jesus into the suffering, hungry crowds. The divine voice commands us to listen to Jesus. But listening is more than hearing. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, building on the rock means not only hearing his words, but acting on them[13].


Oratio

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father.

May your Spirit enlighten our actions

and grant us the strength to practice

that which your Word has revealed to us.

May we, like Mary, your mother,

not only listen to but also practice the Word.

Amen.


Contemplatio

o Jesus leads three of his Disciples away from the crowds to a place where He can be alone with them. Jesus invites us to be with him. We want to answer positively to the invitation we receive in Lent to pray.

o Jesus’ countenance shines like the sun: The glory of God enlightens our life. We want to dwell in the joys of heaven as we face the darkest nights in our lives.

o The Word of God gave significance to the episode of Jesus’ Transfiguration because the Father reveals him as his beloved Son. We make the Word of God the food for our journey in our daily exercise of discernment.

o The mountain was the place where the Disciples would rather remain, but the Jesus called them to move on. We find our joy in serving our Community, and our nearest and dearest ones.

 

[1] Matthew 16: 13-20: “You are the Christ”. [2] Matthew 16: 23: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me”. [3] Acts 12: 1-2: “King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John put to death with the sword”. [4]John 1: 1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. [5] “He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled”. [6] There are many similarities to God’s self-revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai: 1) Both take place on the seventh day. 2) Both Jesus and Moses take three companions with them. 3) Both involve the glory-cloud of God’s presence. 4) Both events involve God speaking. [7] Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles and spoke these remarkable words on the last and greatest day of the Feast: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7: 37-38). The next morning while the torches were still burning, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8: 12). [8] As in Mark 9: 6 and Luke 9: 33 [9] Like that which signalled God’s presence with Israel in their sojourn to freedom, (Exodus 13: 21-22) the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud by day. [10] Daniel 8: 17-18; 10: 7-9 [11] See Philippians 2: 5-11. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross”. [12] DAVIS, W.D., and Allison, Dale C., “Matthew”, Vol 2, p.706 [13] Matthew 7: 24

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