The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Transfiguration August 6, 2017
Isaiah 55, 1-3 + Psalm 145 + Romans 8, 35, 37-39 + Matthew 14, 13-21
St Joseph Parish, Norman, OK
It would be a mistake causing us to miss the point to think that what Matthew is giving us in these verses is a manifestation of the divinity of Christ. The experience of those apostles on that high mountain was an experience of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is presented as a transformed human, not as a human transformed into God. The description of this event is totally passive. Jesus says nothing and does nothing. If this was a revelation of Jesus as God, Jesus would have said something or done something godly. As it is, there is another voice speaking about him. If Jesus were being presented as God, the apostles would have been totally terrified. Instead, Peter starts talking to Jesus as he would in perfectly normal circumstances. His idea of building some booths for them suggests that he is in the presence of heavenly human beings. What we might need to remember here is that both Elijah and Moses according to Jewish tradition were carried into heaven before suffering human death. By associating Jesus with them, a connection is being made to the resurrection.
This event in Matthew’s Gospel follows the first prediction by Jesus regarding his passion and death. Peter and his companions want nothing to do with that. Matthew’s plan here is to correct that reaction by taking them to this high mountain where a voice speaking from the cloud affirms what Peter has declared him to be, the Messiah. The voice declares that God is well pleased with the obedience of Jesus in accepting his suffering role which further challenges the objection of Peter and his companions to the predicted suffering and death. How can they oppose what pleases God is the challenge? At the Baptism of Jesus in chapter three, a similar event takes place, but this time the voice adds the command: “Listen to him.”
The conflict between what Peter, James, and John see and what they had just heard from Jesus about his suffering and death comes to the surface as the voice says: “Listen.” In a sense, what the voice says is: “Do not think that what you see can happen without what you have heard.” The suffering and death, the obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father is what lifts Jesus up to this glory. Human life is transfigured to this glory by obedience to the Father, by service, suffering, and death. Matthew acknowledges the conflict or this lingering refusal to accept the suffering and death by placing these same three apostles in the garden with Jesus on the night of betrayal. It is Peter, James and John who are invited to witness the surrender and obedience of Jesus, and in one last act of denial, they sleep. Only after the death and resurrection of Jesus will they come out of their denial, and so he instructs them to keep quiet about what they had seen until then.
The favor of God comes not just from a violent death, but from obedience to the Father’s will whatever it may be. Our only hope of being transfigured into what God has called us to be is by obedience, which as word in English comes from a Latin word that means “give ear to” or “Listen.” On a high mountain, God reveals through Matthew what we are called to become and how we shall finally pass into or be transfigured into what God first intended before we stopped listening and became disobedient. Our transfiguration will happen when we begin again to listen to the words Jesus has spoken among us: words of forgiveness, words of mercy, words of healing, words of peace. Probably when we begin to embrace these words and live by them, we shall also experience some suffering, betrayal, and in some cases, even death because of them. None the less, when we do listen and ascend that final high mountain of life, we will hear the words: “This is my beloved with whom I am well pleased” spoken over us, and then we shall shine like the sun.