Because it falls on the 6th of August, this Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord instead of the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. In this celebration, which usually falls on a weekday, the Gospel tells us of the glimpse that the Apostles, Peter, James, and John were given of the Divine glory of Jesus. According to the second reading, this glimpse acted as a prophecy of the return of Jesus in glory and thus was a source of strength to the disciples. The first reading provides a symbolic look at the glory of God in His court in heaven and is the source of the term, “Son of Man” that Jesus used most often in referring to Himself.
First Reading: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14
9 As I watched, Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was snow bright, and the hair on his head as white as wool; His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. 10 A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat; Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads attended him. The court was convened, and the books were opened. 13 As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, 14 He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.
NOTES on First Reading:
The Book of Daniel was written during a time of persecution and rebellion under Syrian domination. The reading comes from a portion of the book that is usually described as “apocalyptic.” Apocalyptic literature is usually full of strange images and spectacular visions. These are usually symbolic and not meant to be taken as literal descriptions. In fact, often they are impossible to imagine in a literal sense.
* 7:9-10 This is a vision of God’s throne. God is called the Ancient One, who sits in judgment, which is symbolized by fire, over the nations. Daniel uses some of the same details in the vision to depict the divine majesty and omnipotence as are used in Chapter 1 of Ezekiel. This image is the source of the common picture of God as an old man with white hair and beard enthroned in heaven and surrounded by a heavenly court.
* 7:13 This is the fifth vision in the series of night visions that Daniel was given. It is the only one of the series where the kingdom is represented in human form. All four of the previous ones, representing kingdoms opposed to God, were in the form of beasts. This is also the only one that comes on the clouds of heaven in contrast to the beasts “coming from the great abyss below.” Originally the one “as a Son of Man” may have stood for the glorified people of God that will form his kingdom on earth (Daniel 7:18). The thought of Daniel often shifts from Kingdom to King and over time the One in Human Form came to represent the individual Messianic King in whom this kingdom of the “Holy ones of the Most High”( v. 18) would be realized. Our Lord made the title “Son of Man” his most characteristic way of referring to himself, as the One in whom and through whom the salvation of God’s people came to be realized.
Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-19
16 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. 17 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.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 1:16 Some had rejected the prophecies of Jesus’ coming as myths made up by humans to control the lives of others like the Greco-Roman stories of reward or punishment in the underworld. In 2:3 the author levels this same charge of myth making against his opponents. The author goes on to refer to his own experience of the giving of the parousia prophecy at the transfiguration. The Greek word used for coming is parousia, which is used in 2 Peter 3:4 and 12 of the second coming of Christ. The word was used in extrabiblical literature for the visitation of someone in authority. In Greek cults and Hellenistic Judaism the word was used for the manifestation of the divine presence. Opinions vary as to the meaning of various references to “His coming.” It has been interpreted to refer to Jesus’ transfiguration (2 Peter 1:17) or to his entire first coming or to his future coming in power (2 Peter 3).
* 1:17 The author intends to assure the readers of the reliability of the apostolic message concerning Jesus’ power, glory, and coming by appeal to the transfiguration of Jesus in glory (see Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36) and by appeal to the prophetic message (2 Peter 1:19; perhaps Numbers 24:17). Here, as elsewhere, the New Testament insists on continued reminders as necessary to preserve the historical facts about Jesus and the truths of the faith; See 2 Peter 3:1-2; 1 Cor 11:2; 15:1-3. My Son, my beloved: or, “my beloved Son.” Peter is traditionally credited with special revelations (Matt 16:17), special visions (Matt 28:16-20), special prophecies ((Mark 13:1-3; 14:27-31), and special presence at Jesus’ exercise of power (Mark 5:37:37-43). All of this goes toward making him a specially informed and trustworthy source of traditions about Jesus.
* 1:18 The word, we, refers to Peter, James, and John who were present at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1).
* 1:19 The gospels link the transfiguration with a future coming of God’s Kingdom (Mark 9:1). The church fathers saw Jesus’ prediction that some would not see death until they saw the coming of God’s kingdom as being fulfilled in the vision of Jesus power and glory at the transfiguration. In 1:17-18 however the transfiguration is seen as a prophecy of the second coming of Jesus. It serves as an occasion on which Peter was instructed about Jesus’ parousia and future judgment. Here the author claims special prophetic knowledge on behalf of the apostles and the church.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 17:1-9
1Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
2And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became quite as light.
3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
4Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.
6When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.
7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
8And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus Alone.
9As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
NOTES on Gospel:
* [17:1] These three disciples are also taken apart from the others by Jesus in Gethsemane (Matt 26:37). A high mountain: this has been identified with Tabor or Hermon, but probably no specific mountain was intended by the evangelist or by his Marcan source (Mark 9:2). Its meaning is theological rather than geographical, possibly recalling the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12�18) and to Elijah at the same place (1 Kings 19:8�18; Horeb = Sinai).
* [17:2] His face shone like the sun: this is a Matthean addition; see Daniel 10:6. His clothes became white as light: see Daniel 7:9, where the clothing of God appears �snow bright.� For the white garments of other heavenly beings, see Rev 4:4; 7:9; 19:14.
* [17:3] Moses and Elijah represent, respectively, law and prophecy in the Old Testament and are linked to Mount Sinai; (Ex 19:16�20:17; 1 Kgs 19:2, 8�14). They now appear with Jesus as witnesses to the fulfillment of the law and the prophets taking place in the person of Jesus as he appears in glory.
* [17:4] Three tents: the booths in which the Israelites lived during the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2) were meant to recall their ancestors� dwelling in booths during the journey from Egypt to the promised land (Lv 23:39�42). The same Greek word, skene, here translated tents, is used in the LXX for the booths of that feast, and some scholars have suggested that there is an allusion here to that liturgical custom.
* [17:5] A cloud came, casting a shadow over them: even the disciples enter into the mystery of his glorification. In the Old Testament the cloud covered the meeting tent, indicating the Lord�s presence in the midst of his people (Ex 40:34�35) and came to rest upon the temple in Jerusalem at the time of its dedication (1 Kgs 8:10).
* This is my beloved Son�listen to him: The voice repeats the baptismal proclamation about Jesus, with the addition of the command listen to him. The latter is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15 in which the Israelites are commanded to listen to the prophet like Moses whom God will raise up for them. The command to listen to Jesus is general, but in this context it probably applies particularly to the preceding predictions of his passion and resurrection (Matt 16:21) and of his coming (Matt 16:27, 28).
* [17:6�7] A Matthean addition; see Daniel 10:9�10, 18�19.
* [17:9] The vision: Matthew alone uses this word to describe the transfiguration. Until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead: only in the light of Jesus� resurrection can the meaning of his life and mission be truly understood; until then no testimony to the vision will lead people to faith.