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The Transfiguration of the Lord

Lent 2     Year A  

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

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St. Matthew 17: 1 — 9

 

Introduction

Our reading follows an intense programme of instruction our Lord gave to His disciples during a kind of retreat in the vicinity of the city of Caesarea Philippi. This city was located in the southern foot-hills of Mount Hermon, 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. On that occasion our Lord spoke of three main matters:

First    Peter’s declaration to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the
living God”. To which our Lord responded, “It was my Father in Heaven
that revealed this to you, and not flesh and blood”. (Note: Our Lord’s
response is very significant. St. Peter’s reference to Jesus as “the Son of
the Living God” had been used by others before him, honouring other
great prophets. However here, our Lord affirms Peter’s calling Him
Son of God as definitely referring to His Divinity.

Second    The foretelling by Jesus of His Passion and Resurrection.

Third    The declaration by Jesus that if anyone chooses to become one
of His disciples they must renounce self and take up their cross!

Click her for a printable copy of our text

 

Some Reflections on our text

Verse 1

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

Our reading opens with words meaning “about a week later”. This is an important detail, as it indicates the teaching of Jesus was still very fresh in their minds. In particular, we are to recall that the Father had already revealed the divinity of His Son to Peter. (A. Jones) This was an act unprecedented in the unfolding of Salvation History, and most certainly influenced St. Peter’s response to what occurred in the reading.

Verse 2

And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the
sun and his clothes became white as light.

The text says, “And He was transfigured”: The word refers to a brilliant transformation.

More than a merely external change in appearance is indicated; the Greek word used here (from which we get our word metamorphosis) means “His form was changed”. This is to be compared with Phil. 2: 6 (literally according to the Greek): “Being in the form of God ….. he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave”. That is at the Incarnation Christ hid His divine glory; at the Transfiguration He allowed this divine glory to shine forth for brief moment. (St, Peter considered the Transfiguration of Jesus one of the strongest proofs of His divinity. See 2 Peter 1: 16 — 18) (Hartman and Kennedy)

Verse 3

And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

Our sages, the early Father’s of the Church, interpreted the appearance of Moses and Elijah as representing the Torah (Law) and Haftorah (Prophets) — God’s Teaching for His people.

Moses was, as we all know, the mouth-piece of God who relayed with absolute precision the mind and heart of God to the People Israel gathered at Sinai after their miraculous release from slavery and oppression in Egypt. So faithful was Moses to convey God’s teaching and way of life, to the people, that they often referred to the “Law of Moses” — meaning of course God’s Law faithfully relayed to them in person. This fact is significant at the Transfiguration of Jesus who is now to be the “mouth-piece” of God. Thus the Messiah, revealed by God to St. Peter, is the message-bearer, the repository of the unfolding revelation to mankind.

The other person in the vision, Elijah, represents the whole of the on-going practical outworking of the teaching presented by Moses. Elijah stands for the rest of the Old Testament with its beautiful teaching, including the vocation of Israel to be “a light to the nations”, as well as dire warnings to Israel about deviation from God’s moral standards.

Both of the great men are seen conversing with Jesus — all three presenting a unique image of harmony and unity. They show by their presence that the old order is not destroyed but fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. (A. Jones).

Verse 4

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it 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.”

Our text shows St. Peter saying to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here”. This is a precise rendering of the Greek text from which our English translation was made. Much is made of the remark in the Gospels according to St. Mark and St. Luke that he did not know what he was saying. But this comment by those evangelists is also commonly misunderstood.

We need to know at least a little bit about the Feast of Tents which was about to take place, when all present would be required to go to Jerusalem. St. Peter, a man of careful observance of Jewish festivals and of robust yet profound spiritual understanding, sees, in a flash, something of the awe and power of what is occurring. The coming Feast of Tabernacles, as it is usually called in English, was about celebrating important items of Jewish belief:

•    From the time of Sinai, God’s protection, provision and faithfulness.

•    The time for ingathering of the harvest of grain and wine.

•    The daily illumination of the Temple by lighting many huge, bright
      candelabra along its walls every evening, representing light for the nations.

•    The pouring of water from the Pool of Siloam into the silver basin beside
      the altar of the Temple as prayers were said for rain as well as the pouring
      out of the Holy Spirit.

•    Re-igniting the sense of revival preached by Ezra as he proclaimed the
      Word of God and commanded all Israel to listen and pay heed; obeying
      the whole of Scripture and not just selected parts. (See Ezra and Nehemiah).

Returning to our text and the impact of the vision upon St. Peter, it is clear that, spiritually, he is honoured that these three disciples have been chosen to witness it. Peter’s all-too-inadequate language for responding to this unique spectacle shows that he does, indeed, sense something of the awesome fulfilment it all signifies. He does what any devout and humble Jew would do — he draws from the Sacred Torah, perhaps clumsily, yet faithfully, given the circumstances. In the spirit of Leviticus 23, Peter asks our Lord if He would like booths (Note: the Hebrew Word is “sukkot”, plural, meaning temporary dwelling places built for use during the week-long festival), assembled, since this is obviously a great moment of visitation, and somehow connected with the approaching high festival.

Verse 5

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow
over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

St. Peter, to whom God had only a week earlier revealed the Divinity of His Son, Yeshua, Jesus, felt an intense inspiration somehow to acknowledge the spiritual meaning of what was unfolding before his eyes: the combination of brilliant light and three men, who more than anyone, represented the whole of divine revelation by God to man.

Peter’s question is answered in a way far beyond anyone’s imagination. We are told “a bright cloud” appeared. Anyone who has been caught in the middle of a cloud while driving through mountains knows that clouds look pretty from a distance until you enter them when they become dark and dismal. In our account, the “bright cloud” symbolises the “Shekinah”, the cloud which covered Mt. Sinai — the Cloud of God’s Dwelling, His Presence and Power. Peter sensed the need for acknowledging God’s Divine Presence, and struggling for words, drew on the only image he had for such an occasion: a sukkah, (plural, sukkot) i.e. the customary booth which at that time people would have begun to build in readiness for the coming festival. God honoured the moment by enveloping them all in His own Tent of Dwelling, His own Tabernacle. Then, unexpectedly, a voice rang out in the cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.

This great command from the Father — His only Commandment in the New Testament — conveyed beautifully to the disciples that His Son Yeshua, Jesus, was His living mouthpiece and would incorporate in Himself every single word from all of the ancient Scriptures, symbolised by Moses and Elijah. They were to listen to Him consistently and carry out everything He commanded. He would not supplant Moses and Elijah but fulfill all they taught.

Moses and Elijah had both been granted a viewing of God — but only His back, as it were, as He passed by. (Exodus 33: 18 — 23 and 1 Kings 19: 1 — 21). Now, in this theophany they are shown that their desire to see God is wonderfully granted, but not as they had expected. They were to behold Jesus, Messiah, as God’s “beloved Son,” — the greatest revelation of Himself He can grant us in this life. Their perception of God would increase in proportion to their obeying His command: “Listen to Him!” And so it is with all the disciples of Jesus until He returns at the end of time.

Monsignor John Meier has an interesting comment on this scene:

“… (T)he revealing yet veiling symbol of God’s Presence, descends
upon them and envelops the scene. God is perceived not directly
by sight but only through his word.”                   (Emphasis added)

Hereafter it would be His Son, Jesus Christ, whom they would recognise to be the Divine Word.

Verse 6

When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.

The disciples did not trip or stumble. In their holy fear, they did what devout Jews did — and still do (as do many Christians) — they prostrated themselves to honour God’s Presence. Yes, they were afraid, but in their understandable situation, they responded according to religious custom.

Verses 7 and 8

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else
but Jesus alone.

Our Lord understands the reaction of His closest friends and He loves them for it. He goes over to each one and touches them. He reassures them and bids them to get up. As they do so, they discover immediately that they are alone with their beloved Messiah. Things have suddenly returned to normal: the vision has passed. It was not a dream, but rather an experience our Lord chose them to share with Him.

Verse 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.”

The three disciples are given strict instructions not to relay any account of what they experienced until after our Lord’s resurrection. None of it would be appropriate until the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection had been accomplished. In due course, they themselves came to understand the fuller meaning of this unique revelation of Christ’s glory. The Glenstal Bible Missal summarises this for us:

This is my Son, the beloved, listen to the disconcerting teaching he gives you. Welcome in Him and in yourselves, the close bond between glory and suffering; between strength and weakness; between death and resurrection.”

 

Conclusion

Let us take God’s command at face value and “listen”. Reading the Bible prayerfully, reflecting on portions of the message, allowing Scripture to absorb us: all this is listening to the Word. It is listening to the words, in a way which enables us to hear the Word behind the words; the Word within the words — drawing us into communion with Christ the Word.

 Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Lent 2 ― Year A

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

 Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
reflection.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Lent 2     Year A                                           St. Matthew 17: 1 to 9

1.     As far as we know, St. Peter was the only person outside the Holy Family to whom God revealed interiorly that Jesus was His Divine Son. Certainly St. John the Baptist had been divinely prepared to acknowledge Him as the Messiah — as had St. Simeon. But Peter was, more than any other person, interiorly prepared to respond to the amazing transfiguration of Jesus. Although struggling for words, He knows in the depths of his being, that this is all about the Presence of God and the importance God attaches to the faithful proclamation of His message to His People. God declared His own Son to be the faithful living source of all He had to say.

2.    The command, “Listen to Him”, requires the most careful attention! It is a solemn requirement with which every member of the Church is charged. It means, in the first instance, listen so that you will hear. Secondly it requires us to hearken to what we hear. That is to take heed and ensure we carry out what the Lord teaches. This requires at least a little regular study and reflection by all who are capable of doing so: not burdensome study beyond our circumstances, but sincere listening to God’s mouthpiece with a view to obeying.

3.    The vocation to be “a light for the nations” was no mere casual option, but a most solemn obligation. Judaism has certainly maintained a faithful belief in the “One God”. We too, in our vocation as followers of Jesus Messiah, are called to light up the space we are in with the Light who created light. This is God’s chosen way to bring the peoples of the world closer to Him. Putting Christ’s teaching into practice, wherever we are, will allow that Light to shine in darkness we may not even realise exists in the hearts and minds of people about us.

Let us pray for one another that we will “listen to Him” as we have been commanded by our Father in Heaven, and earnestly try to help others to see the importance of this command.

Let us pray for one another that we will persevere in reflecting on the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus — Messiah — that we may hear spiritually the true message He brings, and share it through the simple goodness of our daily living.

 Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections

Matthew 17: 1 — 9

Lent 2    Year A

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

1     1 2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
       and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

2     3 And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun
       and
his clothes became white as light.

3     4 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with
       him.

4     Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are
       here. If
you wish, I will make three tents 5 here, one for you, one
       for Moses, and
one for Elijah.”

5     While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow
       over
them, 6 then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my
       beloved
Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

6     7 When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very
       much
afraid.

7     But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be
       afraid.”

8     And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but
       Jesus alone.

9     8 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them,
       “Do not tell the vision 9 to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised
       from the dead.”

1 [1-8] The account of the transfiguration confirms that Jesus is the Son of God (⇒ Matthew 17:5) 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). It has been explained by some as a resurrection appearance retrojected into the time of Jesus’ ministry, but that is not probable since the account lacks many of the usual elements of the resurrection-appearance narratives. It draws upon motifs from the Old Testament and noncanonical Jewish apocalyptic literature that express the presence of the heavenly and the divine, e.g., brilliant light, white garments, and the overshadowing cloud.

2 [1] These three disciples are also taken apart from the others by Jesus in Gethsemane (⇒ Matthew 26:37). A high mountain: this has been identified with Tabor or Hermon, but probably no specific mountain was intended by the evangelist or by his Marcan source (⇒ Matthew 9:2). Its meaning is theological rather than geographical, possibly recalling the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (⇒ Exodus 24:12-18) and to Elijah at the same place (⇒ 1 Kings 19:8-18; Horeb = Sinai).

3 [2] His face shone like the sun: this is a Matthean addition; cf ⇒ Daniel 10:6. His clothes became white as light: cf ⇒ Daniel 7:9 where the clothing of God appears “snow bright.” For the white garments of other heavenly beings, see ⇒ Rev 4:4; ⇒ 7:9; ⇒ 19:14.

4 [3] See the note on ⇒ Mark 9:5.

5 [4] Three tents: the booths in which the Israelites lived during the feast of Tabernacles (cf ⇒ John 7:2) were meant to recall their ancestors’ dwelling in booths during the journey from Egypt to the promised land (⇒ Lev 23:39-42). The same Greek word, skene, here translated tents, is used in the LXX for the booths of that feast, and some scholars have suggested that there is an allusion here to that liturgical custom.

6 [5] Cloud cast a shadow over them: see the note on ⇒ Mark 9:7. This is my beloved Son . . . listen to him: cf ⇒ Matthew 3:17. The voice repeats the baptismal proclamation about Jesus, with the addition of the command listen to him. The latter is a reference to ⇒ Deut 18:15 in which the Israelites are commanded to listen to the prophet like Moses whom God will raise up for them. The command to listen to Jesus is general, but in this context it probably applies particularly to the preceding predictions of his passion and resurrection (⇒ Matthew 16:21) and of his coming (⇒ Matthew 16:27, ⇒ 28).

7 [6-7] A Matthean addition; cf ⇒ Daniel 10:9-10, ⇒ 18-19.

8 [9] In response to the disciples’ question about the expected return of Elijah, Jesus interprets the mission of the Baptist as the fulfillment of that expectation. But that was not suspected by those who opposed and finally killed him, and Jesus predicts a similar fate for himself.

9 [9] The vision: Matthew alone uses this word to describe the transfiguration. Until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead: only in the light of Jesus’ resurrection can the meaning of his life and mission be truly understood; until then no testimony to the vision will lead people to faith. ⇒ Matthew 17:9-13

 

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition
(c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington D.C.
and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of
the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in
writing from the copyright owner.

 

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