Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Christ today is our exalted Lord
Jesus, the Son of Man, receives from God power over all things
August 6, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Sometimes it is interesting how the liturgy influences the interpretation of scripture or at least the application of it. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Our gospel reading is the same gospel we heard on the Second Sunday of Lent. The other two readings are different.
The Gospel of Mark presents the scene as knitting together the past history of Israel with the future expectations of the role of Jesus. It clearly examines the identity of Jesus. It also records the experience of the disciples, Peter, James, and John as they witness Jesus' transfiguration. It certainly must have strengthened their faith even though they may not have fully understood what was happening. Mark tells us this so that we might realize that it was a real and historical event and not simply a heavenly vision. They witnessed Jesus as speaking with Moses and Elijah. These two are symbols of all that has gone before in the Old Testament. Moses being a symbol of the Law and Covenant, and Elijah of the prophets who spoke for God in challenging Israel to live up to that Covenant.
Peter's request to set up tents might recall the feast of Tabernacles. It reminded Israel of their life and journey in the desert. It also, by the time of Jesus, had messianic implications. So Mark is helping the reader, through the experience of the disciples, understand Jesus' identity. The voice from heaven stresses that the disciples are to listen to Jesus. The words are clear in that Jesus, like Israel, is God's beloved son. In listening to Jesus, the words that follow may help them appreciate what was going to happen to Jesus. Jesus told them to be quiet about the event until he had risen from the dead. They, Mark said, questioned what this meant. They would need to appreciate what had happened to face the implications of Jesus' death.
While the Second Sunday of Lent used a passage from Genesis about Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac and, therefore, points to God's own expression of love in sending his son, our reading today is taken from the Book of Daniel. It gives us a powerful vision in which God appears much as Jesus did in the gospel. The other figure, the Son of Man, is applied to Jesus in scripture. He receives from God power over all things. Jesus, in the Letter to the Philippians, tells us, through an early Christian hymn, that Jesus, because of his humiliation in death, received that role and is confessed as Lord.
Our second reading from the Second Letter of Peter affirms that the author has direct and personal evidence of Jesus' sovereign majesty. He has heard the voice from heaven tell him that Jesus is God's beloved Son. It is interesting that the quote is from Mark's story of Jesus' baptism not the transfiguration. As a result of the experience though, he possesses a prophetic message to give to us. It is a message that he compares to a lamp shining in the darkness. The transfiguration, for the author, pointed to the coming of God's kingdom. The words and the experience would function as a light to those who placed their faith in Jesus.
The liturgy in the readings presents the transfiguration as a point of celebration. It is not just an event, as in Lent, helping us appreciate Christ's coming death and resurrection, but also a sign of the power and majesty of what God is doing today. Like the Feast of the Ascension, it points to Christ's exaltation. Christ today is our exalted Lord. He is not only a model for us but also the Lord of our life.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)