There’s always been a time in our lives when we’ve seen somebody who we know is very good at something look like he’s about to lose at it. Maybe a friend who is an excellent swimmer but in the middle of the race your watching isn’t doing too well. Yet, because of what we know about that person, we expect the results to change before the race is over, so to speak, so we sit back and wait.
This Sunday, we see Jesus setting Himself up to do the exact same thing for His three closest Apostles: Peter, James, and John. This is what the Transfiguration is, at least in part. Jesus intends to reveal His glory to these three so that when He is crucified shortly after and looking like He's losing the race, they know that the story won’t end that way. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
The Liturgy of the Word, this Sunday, begins with a reading from the book of Daniel. It’s quite a strange one. Let me explain it.
Daniel is having a vision of some kind of apocalyptic (to do with the end-times) event. He says:
As I watched: Thrones were set in place and one of great age took his seat. His robe was white as snow, the hair of his head as pure as wool. His throne was a blaze of flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A stream of fire poured out, issuing from his presence. A thousand thousand waited on him, ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. A court was held and the books were opened.
This is how Daniel sets the stage for what is about to happen. Then enters the star of the show.
And I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man. He came to the one of great age and was led into his presence. On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed.
“Son of man?” This is the title that Jesus uses to describe Himself all the time! But, clearly, in Daniel’s use of the phrase he is implying that this “son of man” is “eternal” and clearly divine. You see, many people think that when Jesus uses the term “son of man,” that He is downplaying His divinity (the fact that He is God) and some even think that He is saying that He is actually not divine; that we just made a mistake! This is outrageous and just not true. In fact, we see that His usage of “son of man” comes from a place in the Bible that completely implies divinity and nothing less! Jesus, at one point, even quotes the passage Himself, with reference to Himself to be sure, right in the middle of His trial. See for yourselves.
And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” (Matthew 26:63-66)
So Jesus quotes the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven from the book of Daniel and what’s the reaction? “He deserves death!” What, for quoting the Bible? No, for claiming to be God! An important point, however: It’s not wrong to claim to be God, if you are! But they didn’t believe that, of course.
In the Transfiguration, however, on top of Mount Tabor, Jesus showed Peter, James, and John His own divinity so that they could experience it on human terms. Jesus showed them, and showed us, so that they would know, as we’ll proclaim in this Sunday’s psalm, that “the Lord is king, most high above all the earth!”
There are a few parallels and opposites with the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion. Let me use an image that I constructed during my time at university to help you see them.
You see, Jesus knew that He was to be crucified; that’s what He came for. But He knew that His followers would have a hard time with it. So what He did was, He let His glory be seen beforehand in a parallel way so that when they saw the similar but more difficult event later, they would all think “It’s ok, this is part of the plan.” It looks like John did think something like that, but the others seemed to have a harder time. But after the Resurrection they all remembered the Transfiguration. Look at what St Peter says in his epistle and in our Second Reading this Sunday.
It was not any cleverly invented myths that we were repeating when we brought you the knowledge of the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; we had seen his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father, when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him and said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour.’ We heard this ourselves, spoken from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.
When things start to look a little “off-script” in our lives, know that Jesus has always got it covered, as long as we are absolutely submissive to Him and we allow Him to work. He is the “king, most high above all the earth.” We need to always repeat to ourselves the very words that Peter, James, and John heard from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; He enjoys my favour. Listen to him.”
Knowing that He has suffered for us more than we could every suffer for Him or for anyone, with full confidence, we can truly listen to Him.
See you next week on Seeking the Word!
P.s. Be sure to wish Fr Stuart and Fr Charlie a happy anniversary! This Sunday, 6th August, feast of the Transfiguration, they will both celebrate 25 years of priesthood. Myself and Gibraltar Catholic Youth extends to them our most sincere gratitude. Thank you, Fr Stuart and Fr Charlie, for your dedication, service, and unwavering love. You are greatly loved in return.
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