Transfiguration of Our Lord – Cycle A
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
According to explicit accounts in the first three gospels (Matthew
17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), the Apostles Peter, James and John
witnessed an unveiling of the divine glory of Christ, and the
appearance with Him of Moses and Elijah. This event has come to be
called the Transfiguration on the basis of the scriptural report,
“He was transfigured before them”. According to tradition,
the transfiguration occurred on Mount Tabor, but some believe it may
have taken place on Mount Hermon or even on the Mount of Olives. There
are no Old Testament parallels for this event, the closest being
Moses’ face shining after he had visited with God on Mount Sinai
The feast of the Transfiguration became widespread in the West in the
eleventh century and was introduced into the Roman calendar in 1457 to
commemorate the victory over Islam in Belgrade. Before that, the
Transfiguration of the Lord was celebrated in the Cyrian, Byzantine,
and Coptic rites.
1st Reading -Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
As was said in the introduction to this feast day, there is no direct
Old Testament parallel to the Transfiguration. Our Old Testament
reading for today comes from the book of Daniel. We all remember Daniel
from his encounter when he was thrown into the lions’ den but
there is much more to the book than that. The aim of the book is to
show that the God of Israel, the one true God, is greater than the
Everything we know about Daniel (the name means “God is my
judge”) comes from this book. He belonged to the royal family of
Zedekiah and was taken, by order of Nebuchadnezzar, in captivity along
with other Jewish children, to Babylon in 605 B.C.. Like certain other
young men he was later chosen by the king to be brought up and educated
at court, where he was given the name Belteshazzar. God endowed him
with special wisdom which soon led him to enjoy the king’s favor;
he was so successful in interpreting the king’s dreams that he
was appointed ruler of the province of Babylon. King Darvis wanted to
make him prime minister, but the envy of his other ministers frustrated
this plan; they plotted his death but God saved him in a miraculous way
(the lions’ den episode).
There are two quite distinguishable parts in the book: in the first
part (chapters 1 through 6) Daniel tells of his personal experiences at
the royal court and ends with the experience in the lion’s den.
The second part relates four prophetic apocalyptic visions which Daniel
received. It is from the first of these visions that our reading for
today comes and it is a description of the celestial court.
9 As I watched, Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his
throne. His clothing was snow bright, and the hair on his head as white
as wool; His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. 10
A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat; Thousands upon
thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads attended
him. The court was convened, and the books were opened. 13 As the
visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
“Like a son of man” means in human form. The part of the
vision not read today describes four beasts (four kingdoms) that had
come from the great abyss below. The celestial court is sitting in
judgment of the fourth beast. The human form is presented as a heavenly
contrast to the beastly forms of evil. The beasts are figures of the
pagan kingdoms, the one in human form symbolizes the holy ones of God
most high. The concept of the “son of man” eventually
shifted from a figure of speech for the theocratic kingdom into a term
for the messianic king himself. This change appears in Enoch, written a
century or two before the time of Christ.
When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, 14 He
received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every
language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall
not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.
2nd Reading - 2 Peter 1:16-19
At the time of the Protestant revolt (they didn’t reform the
church, the Council of Trent did after they left it) Martin Luther
wanted to omit James, Jude, 2nd Peter, 2nd & 3rd John, Hebrews and
Revelation from the canon of the New Testament.
The 2nd letter of Peter was written from Rome about a year before
Peter’s martyrdom (this would date the letter about A.D. 63).
Various commentators place the date as late as A.D. 140 based on its
discussions of Gnostic problems but these same discussions can (and do)
address the heresies and errors of the Simonites and the Nicolaitans
who were around in A.D. 63 and were forerunners of Gnosticism.
Around 1968 in German Lutheran circles the question of the place of 2nd
Peter in the canon was reopened on the ground that the epistle shows
objectionable signs of “early Catholicism”, that is, the
idea of an authoritative interpretation of scripture.
16 We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we
made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The apostolic doctrine has nothing to do with the false teachings which
he will address. The false teachers had labeled Jesus’ future
parousia a myth made up by human beings to control the lives of others.
but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
In response to this charge of myth Peter offers the best evidence, his
own experience as an eyewitness that Jesus already possesses the
essential qualities to be manifested at his coming: majesty, honor and
glory from the Father, messianic and divine sonship.
17 For he received honor and glory from God the
Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic
glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well
pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while
we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the
prophetic message that is altogether reliable.
The prophetic word, the Old Testament scriptures generally, also testify to the parousia.
You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark
place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
The parousia. The transfiguration prophecy of the parousia can function
as a light in darkness for those waiting for the final light, the
“morning star” (see Revelation 2:28) to rise with
Christ’s parousia (1 Thessalonians 5:4).
The chapter then ends with these words: “Know this first of all,
that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal
interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but
rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence
of God” (2 Peter 1:20-21), which is the passage that bothers the
German Lutherans because it points back to the Church, the eyewitness,
as the only ones who have the authority to interpret scripture.
Again, later on in the closing of 2 Peter we
read: “And consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, as our
beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote
to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them
there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable
distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.
Therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, be on your guard not to
be led into the error of the unprincipled and to fall from your own
stability. But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and
savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory now and to the day of eternity.
(Amen.)” (2 Peter 3:15-18). Which again points out the necessity
of looking to the Church to determine the proper interpretation of
Gospel – Matthew 17:1-9
The transfiguration occurred shortly after the feeding of the five
thousand and the four thousand. The account of the transfiguration
confirms that Jesus is the Son of God and points to fulfillment of the
prediction that He will come in His Father’s glory at the end of
the age (Matthew 16:27). This event marks the beginning of Jesus’
journey to Jerusalem for His passion. If this reading sounds familiar,
it is because we last heard it on the Second Sunday in Lent during this
1 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
Peter, James and John are the inner circle of the apostles. They were
also chosen to be separate from the rest of the twelve in the garden of
Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37) and at the raising of Jarius’ daughter
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
A mountain symbolic of revelation, a kind of Galilean Sinai; God spoke
to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12-18) and Elijah at the same place
(1 Kings 19:8-18). No localization is necessary although Carmel, Tabor,
and Hermon have been suggested.
2 And he was transfigured before them; his face shone
like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
The brightness of the illumination recalls the brightness of the face
of Moses after the Sinai revelation (Exodus 34:29-35), which made it
necessary for Moses to veil his face.
3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
Moses and Elijah represent respectively the Law and the Prophets. The
term “the Law and the Prophets” was used to designate the
entire collection of Old Testament books, and thus the fullness of the
revelation of God to Israel. Jesus joins the two as the fulfillment of
the Law and the Prophets (see Matthew 5:17). Elijah was assumed bodily
into heaven (2 Kings 2:11) and Hebrew legend has it that Moses was also
assumed. This may explain how both can appear here in bodily form.
Neither Matthew nor Mark tell us what was discussed, but Luke 9:31 says
“They spoke about his departure (exodus), which he was about to
bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”
4 Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord,
Matthew uses the word “Lord”, while Mark uses
“rabbi” as the form of address. “Lord”
literally means “my great one”, an address of respect to
God, angels, and earthly sovereigns.
is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Peter is a master of understatement. No doubt he is making a reference
to the feast of tabernacles, one of three yearly feasts for which all
males of Israel were required to travel to the Temple and lived in
tents (or booths). The feast occurred in September-October and lasted
for eight days. The three Apostles want to stick around for a while.
The feast of tabernacles commemorated the sojourn of the Israelites on
Mount Sinai while they received the revelation of the Law through
Moses. This is not the revelation of another law, a greater reality is
manifested here. Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets.
it 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
This is the shechinah (glory cloud), the divine presence, the cloud that occupied the tabernacle in the time of Moses.
then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved
Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
These words are a revelation of the sonship of Jesus; Matthew repeats
the words spoken at the baptism (Matthew 3:17) and adds “listen
to him” (sort of like Mary’s “do whatever he tells
you” (John 2:5). Jesus is the Son and the revealer. The
Israelites are commanded to listen to a prophet like Moses whom God
will raise up for them in Deuteronomy 18:15.
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.
This is their reaction to the divine command (listen to him) rather than to the vision itself.
7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
Jesus’ touch overcomes their fear and perhaps consecrates them to
further service. Luke’s account of the transfiguration suggests
the disciples were asleep and this is a dream-vision.
8 And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
Moses and Elijah have withdrawn; diminished in significance before the fuller revelation in Jesus.
9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus
charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of
Man has been raised from the dead.”
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org