The Transfiguration of the Lord – Sunday, August 6, 2023

 

The Transfiguration of the Lord – Sunday, August 6, 2023

Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1: 16-19; Matthew 17: 1-9

 

Theme: In Heaven, Our Resurrected Bodies will be Like the Transfigured Body of Jesus

When Matthew talks about the kingdom of heaven, there are two interpretations to consider. First, the kingdom of heaven can refer to an anticipated heavenly life that believers are called to live here on Earth.  From June 18th until last Sunday, July 30th, the Gospel readings were centered on this interpretation of the heavenly kingdom. Jesus sent his apostles including you and me out on a mission to announce to the people that this kingdom of heaven is at hand. To be part of this kingdom, we should listen to the Word of God, take up our crosses, follow him, come to him we who labor and are burdened, and take up his yoke and learn from him. Also, Jesus told us seven parables to explain to us again what this kingdom of heaven that he came to initiate on earth is like. (See my homilies from Sundays, June 18th to July 30th). Second, the kingdom of heaven also can be understood as the kingdom consummated in the world to come. It is the glory of eternal life that the righteous will share after the final judgment. The scripture readings today refer to this interpretation of the heavenly kingdom.

Notice, we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord today after a long meditation (from June 18th to July 30th) on the kingdom of heaven understood as an anticipated heavenly life on earth (Matthew 10-13). The reason for doing it is that our mother Church wants to teach us that we who continue to build the “kingdom of heaven” in this present life will share the glory of God in the “kingdom of heaven” in the world to come.

All the readings that we heard today point us to the reality of the end of time and the glory of everlasting life that believers will share in the kingdom of heaven. In our first reading, prophet Daniel describes what he saw in his vision concerning God’s throne room. The author of the Second Peter, in our second reading, answers the questions of his contemporaries regarding the delay of the Parousia, the return of Jesus at the end of time. In our Gospel, Matthew talks about the story of Jesus’ transfiguration to teach us what our bodies and lives will look like in the kingdom of heaven.

To better understand Prophet Daniel’s vision in our first reading, it is important to know the background of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes whom he refers to in his vision. This background is found in the verses preceding our first reading passage in which Daniel tells us his vision of four great beasts that emerge from the sea. These four great beasts are thought to represent four great empires in succession (the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks). There are several horns on each beast that represent kings associated with that dynasty. Daniel goes on and says that he saw tiny horn sprouts on the fourth beast, which replaced three of its ten horns. This tiny horn is the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This king was notorious for his violence. He launched a persecution of the Jews in the mid-second century BC.

This background about King Antiochus IV helps us to understand our first reading. Although the suffering that the people of Israel endured under the dominations of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks, especially despite the persecution launched by Antiochus IV, the prophet Daniel saw a vision of an everlasting life that awaits his people and all of us in the kingdom of God. The “Ancient One” represents God. All the details of his appearance allude to God’s divine status of wisdom and purity. The throne and river of fire refer to God’s supremacy over cosmic phenomena. Daniel says that thousands upon thousands were ministering to him (God) and myriads upon myriads attended him (v. 10). The prophet also saw “one like a Son of man,” who is presented before the Ancient One (God) and receives “dominion, glory, and kinship” from him. All people will serve him, and his dominion will last forever (vv. 13-14). The Church associates this text with Jesus. Daniel’s vision teaches us that our lives do not end in this world. Despite all suffering that we go through now, there is everlasting glory that is awaiting all those who will not lose their faith. Our resurrected bodies will look like that of the Transfigured Jesus as Matthew tells us in our Gospel.

     The Gospel passage today is the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Matthew tells us that Jesus took three of his disciples (Peter, James, and John) and led them up a high unnamed mountain where he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light (vv. 1-2). These details of Jesus’ appearance are like what Daniel applies to the “Ancient One” (God) in our first reading. Jesus’ appearance shows what our resurrected bodies will look like in the heavenly kingdom. The Evangelist mentions the presence of Moses and Elijah who appeared before the three disciples and were conversing with Jesus (v. 3). Moses represents the Torah, the Law, and Elijah represents Nevi’im, the prophets. The presence of these two important figures of the Old Testament testifies that what these three disciples witness on this mountain is the fulfillment of the teachings of the books of Law and Prophets, including the vision of the prophet Daniel that we heard in our first reading. In one word, Jesus is the accomplishment of the Old Testament.  

These three disciples experience what the glory of eternal life in the kingdom of God looks like. They were so amazed that Peter requested to build three tents there, meaning that he wanted all of them to remain there for good. This glory of the transfiguration alludes to what you and I will enjoy in the heavenly kingdom in the world to come. However, before we reach there and enjoy this glory, God, through his voice that came from the cloud, asks us to listen to Jesus, his Son. “To listen to Jesus” means that we need to observe all that Jesus teaches us. And from June 18th to July 30th, Jesus taught us about the kingdom of heaven that we, Christians, need to continue to build here in this world. We should start it now because when our Lord returns (the day no one knows), he finds us in action.

The second coming of our Lord and final judgment are not fake news but realities. It is true that Jesus will return one day to judge the living and dead. This is one of the topics that the author of Second Peter addresses in his epistle, and that we heard in our second reading passage. The context of this reading has to do with the delay of Jesus’ return. The early Christians believed that the second coming of Jesus would happen very soon as the resurrection from the dead was one of the signs of the end of time. In fact, according to Paul’s teaching, Jesus’ return would take place within his lifetime (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18). Based on the approximate year when the Epistle of the Second Peter was written (AD 100-125), the early Christians were waiting for Jesus’ return for 70 to 90 years since the resurrection of Jesus. They became concerned about the delay. The author commences our reading by asserting, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2Peter 1: 16). The reference to “cleverly devised myths” here is a response to an accusation that was leveled against people who made up stories about rewards and punishment in the end time to control people’s behavior. The sacred author affirms that they do not spout such myths. Rather, what they told them is what they themselves witnessed. “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.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” (vv. 17-18, NABRE). The description of what they witnessed alludes to the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration that Matthew narrates in our Gospel passage. So, the author asserts that he and his companions witnessed Jesus’ prophecy about his return at the end of time. Then, they exhort their audience to believe them because their message is prophetic and so reliable (v. 19).

The liturgy of this Mass teaches us that one day our Lord will return to reward us who commit ourselves to build the kingdom of heaven in our Church, families, neighborhoods, and everywhere we live. Our resurrected bodies will be like the Transfigured body of Jesus. Our ministries in the heavenly kingdom will consist of praising and serving God. Should Jesus’ return delay, we, Christians, will not lose hope nor abandon our faith. Rather, we continue to listen to the beloved Son of God and follow everything that he teaches us in the Scripture. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

   

 

  

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