Feast of the Transfiguration (C)
Behind the Distressing Disguise
Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalms 97:1-2, 5-6, 9; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Luke 9:28b-36
Some of us will probably have experienced how easy it is to scare little children, even when one doesn’t really intend to. I remember, for example, some occasions when an adult might make a funny face or put on a strange-looking mask with the intention of amusing a child. But instead of lighting up with laughter, the child’s face unexpectedly crumples up into a grimace of fear, and tears might even start streaming down. What can the poor adult do but stop making that funny-face, or take off the strange-looking mask and allow the child to see the comfortingly familiar face behind it; to reassure the child that there’s really nothing to fear.
We celebrate something similar today in this feast of the Transfiguration. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the readings is that of light and glory. The prophet Daniel speaks of the blaze of flames that surround the throne of the one of great age. And the gospel describes how the aspect of Jesus’ face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. If we were to imagine what the throne-room of the first reading and the mountain of the gospel look like, can we not but be dazzled by the brightness that engulfs them both? And yet, to focus only on the light is also to miss the significance of our feast. For there is a reason why this glorious divine radiance is made manifest, a reason that only becomes apparent when we examine more closely its timing.
The prophet Daniel is blessed with his consoling vision at a time when he and his people are living the life of exiles in a foreign land. The disciples Peter and James and John are led up Mount Tabor at crucial turning point in their walk with Jesus. Prior to this they have witnessed the words of wisdom spoken and the miracles of power worked by their Lord. They have enjoyed his popularity. But now Jesus is turning towards Jerusalem and Calvary. Soon Jesus, the glorious Messiah, the only Son of God, will don the distressing disguise of a suffering servant. His body will be beaten and broken and buried, but only to rise again on the third day. As it is with Daniel and his people, a cloud will soon come upon the disciples and their lives will be covered with shadow. Like the confused child, their hearts will know fear, and they will be tempted to fall away, to stop following their Lord.
It is at this crucial moment that they are privileged with a peek behind God’s distressing disguise. It is at this point on their journey that they receive the assurance that the cloud of shadow that engulfs them is actually suffused with the powerful presence of God. It is here on the mountaintop that they are reminded of the true identity of this One whom they are following: This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him. This then is the deeper significance of the Transfiguration. The time of light is meant to provide courage to face the darkness. As Peter tells us in the second reading: you will be right to depend on prophecy and take it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark until the dawn comes…
What is the dark cloud that might be engulfing us today? Where is our Mount Tabor? How is the Lord strengthening us by allowing us a peek behind his distressing disguise?