Homily – March 4th, 2012
TRANSFIGURATION Mark 9: 2-8 March 4, 2012
Senator George Mitchell presented a report in December of 2007 to the Baseball Commissioner. The report documents the wide spread use of steroids in baseball. We realized that homerun king Barry Bonds and ace pitcher Roger Clemens were not in actuality as they seemed; the long ball out of the playing field and the hard pitches of the strike out rang untrue. A falsity hovered about these exploits, for pills and injections influenced these marvels more than muscle and innate ability. We had mistaken fantasy for reality.
A Baseball scandal had also erupted in 1919 when the Chicago Blacksox deliberately lost games. That team threw the World Series. This famous falsity is summarized in the story of a lad telling the fabled outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” But Joe Jackson could not deny the truth of the team’s falsity.
We want the truth of events. And the truth usually winds together with the truth of character. The event in today’s gospel reveals the true nature of Jesus Christ. We might refer to the transfiguration as a “Christophany,” a manifestation of the nature of Jesus Christ. Here we find enacted a sudden revelation of Jesus’ as divine.
This transfiguration of Jesus recalls God revealing Himself to Moses. Recall how Moses one day tended his sheep. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush. As [Moses] looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed…..God called out to Moses from the bush, “Moses, Moses!…. Come no nearer! You stand on holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3: 2-3). Moses was a person to whom God revealed Himself.
In other theophanies (Cf. Exodus), only Moses, and not other companions, can see God. Those who try, God warns, will die. The Lord commands that Aaron with Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel come up the mountain with Moses. These people testify that Moses experiences God, but Moses alone directly encounters the Lord (Exodus 24: 1-2).
In a cloud God led the Israelites out of Bondage in Egypt. In a cloud God appears to Moses on the holy mountain (cf. Exodus 40: 34-38; 1 Kings 8: 10—11; and elsewhere). The wondrous cloud signals God, and humans meet God spectacularly. Moses meets God and Moses is wonderfully affected.
Like Moses, Jesus appears enveloped in a wonderful cloud, the signal of God’s presence. Unlike the companions of Moses, however, Peter, James, and John accompany the Lord, and these three apostles experience the change of Jesus; furthermore, they witness to it after the resurrection. Peter writes in his second letter testifying to that epiphany: “We ourselves,” says Peter, “heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1: 18). Thus Peter and the others attest to the showing of Jesus’ true nature.
In the case of Jesus, however, the apostles see Jesus as divine. In this secluded mountain event, Jesus undergoes an outward change, so that his inner self receives new expression. True, His clothes become radiant; not even the best bleacher could produce something as dazzlingly white as the garments of the transformed Jesus. The clothes are radiant and exceedingly white.
Jesus does not gleam with borrowed light, not like on Mount Horeb where Moses’ face reflects the divine splendor. We see here no reflection as of the sun bouncing to our eye from the smooth surface of Puget Sound; in that case, the bright light borrows from the heavenly orb. Rather, Jesus’ whole person blazes forth light, not from some distant source, but from His inner self. His marvelous brightness testifies to his true self.
Near by at his right and left stand the two greatest figures of Israel, the illustrious representatives of the Law and the Prophets: Moses, the lawgiver of the Hebrews, and Elijah the prophet, the forerunner of Messianic times. Yielding the place of honor to Jesus, they converse with Him about His redemptive death. The Old Covenant witnesses the issuing in of the New Covenant that manifests the Son of God.
A voice comes forth from the cloud, not the voice of Moses or of Elijah, not the voice of Jesus, but a great tone declaring: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Such solemn testimony had issued from heaven at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River; and it happens now. God the Father omnipotent declares the Lord’s divinity.
Peter, James, and John tremble with fear, and they throw themselves to the ground, their faces hidden in the earth’s dirt. The voice vibrates through them, warning that they should “Hear Him.” The apostles must hear his teaching and attend to the Lord’s instruction. The voice approves Jesus. By His nature, Jesus is the beloved Son of God.
In December of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote in order to summon up the courage of American colonists. They must gather around George Washington to fight the Red Coats, or they would be slaves enmeshed in Britain’s chains. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine wrote. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman” (“The American Crisis). Paine has it that the crisis reveals the true person. A Tory or an American patriot—a person’s character must now appear.
Just so, at the Transfiguration, Jesus’ true character emerges gloriously. Jesus is the Son of God. At the magnificent moment, shining through his humanity, the apostles experience the divine Jesus. Amen.
Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.