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Sunday Readings for Mar. 20, 2011 (2LentA)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
Last week we saw Jesus being tempted just like the rest of us. It was so human. This week we see him transformed into dazzling light. Not so human. What is going on? Is he trying to teach us something?
To try for an answer, I want to describe a possible prayer experience that you may or may not have had.*
Please imagine yourself sad and discouraged, wishing God would help you. You want the Faith that used to be yours, but you do not find it. You go along in your normal patterns. But suppose that all at once you find yourself moved and attracted to God in a way you cannot doubt, a way that is beyond you but within you. Afterwards you cannot really doubt that it was from God, even though you don't understand it.
This would be an important moment, wouldn’t it, a brief transformation of your experience of God, a reshaping of it. Call it a "transfiguration."
Now apply such an understanding of transfiguration to Sunday’s scene of Jesus' transfiguration in Sunday’s Gospel. The apostles suddenly behold Jesus with his divinity shining forth (like a "glorified body"). It breaks through their usual filters. Their experience of Jesus is being transfigured. For a moment they see Jesus in the complete union with God that he is.
I said, the complete union with "God that he is,” not that he “has.” In Jesus, divinity and humanity are at one with each other. Daily onlookers saw only the human, but here Jesus is showing the apostles his whole self, divinity in its complete oneness with humanity.
Why would Jesus make such a sudden revelation to them?
Again, the answer might be found in our imagined prayer. In such a prayer God can give us a brief vision of how things really are at their core. Sometimes this is to keep us from getting discouraged, or letting our attention drift away while he is teaching us. Couldn't this be the case with the transfiguration as well?
Couldn’t he have been training the apostles throughout the Gospel, and this scene is just one stage of the instruction?
In fact, I think this the case. All through Matthew’s Gospel Jesus had gradually taught them about himself. He was a superb teacher. Just before our Gospel passage he finally told them what a real Messiah is. He said the “Son of the living God” (Peter’s words) “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:13-23).
A major revelation, one he thought they were at last ready for. If you remember, however, Peter objected vehemently. He took Jesus aside "and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’” Jesus goes so far as to call Peter “Satan” for resisting the new revelation. Suffering and death are not foreign to Jesus, the Messiah. They are of the essence. Such a hard lesson this is for each of us. Suffering, death and resurrection are at the heart of love!
I suppose the Transfiguration was one way for Jesus to reassure them that such things would not negate his divinity, they would fulfill it. They would be God’s love shining forth.
* Ignatius Loyola describes a prayer experience that might be like this. He says it is “ . . . an occasion when God our Lord moves and attracts the will in such a way that a devout person, without doubting or being able to doubt, carries out what was proposed. This is what St. Paul and St. Matthew did when they followed Christ our Lord” [see, for instance, Mt 9:9]. From the Spiritual Exercises, #175.