2 Peter 1,16-19
Today’s liturgical celebration is an invitation to the contemplation of the figure of Christ. A Christ certainly human linked still to spatial-temporal coordinates, but at the same time Lord and dominator of time and space. The event of the Transfiguration is revelation of the destiny and mystery of Jesus “the Christ,” but is also revelation of the destiny and the mystery of the Christian: a horizon of light and of eternal communion with God. Nevertheless, it is necessary not to forget that Christ, glorious and transfigured passes, through the darkness of history, of the cross and of death. Only his way of occultation, of service and of love unto the extremes, carries to light and joy a totally transfigured life. The divine declaration that lets itself be heard on the height of the mountain is the best commentary of the spiritual message of today’s feast: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” (Mk 9,7).
The first reading (Dn 7,9-10.13-14) is taken from the only explicitly apocalyptic book of the Old Testament, the book of Daniel, a collection of accounts (chapters 1-6) and of visions (chapters 7-12), written in diverse languages (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic) during the Maccabean epoch (167-164 BC). In the book of Daniel, as in every apocalyptic perspective, history is considered an ambiance of confrontation between good and evil, dominated by violence and impiety, at the same time that believers are invited to place their trust in the victory of God and in the arrival of a world different from the actual one. In effect, the celebrated messianic vision of chapter 7, that presents the celestial court presided by “one of great age,” that is to say, the Eternal, God, represents the new world, and the mysterious figure of the “son of man,” that embodies the faithful as model and head, represents the new humanity. This mysterious human figure represents a community, “the holy ones, the people of the holy ones of the Most High” (Dan 7,22.27). The interpretation that the author of the text gives is not messianic, nor individual. This treats of the community of Israel, the chosen and consecrated people (Ezk 19,6). In the 7th chapter of Daniel is the opposition of the four beasts that represent diverse pagan empires (Dan 7,1-8). It is not one more empire in the series, but rather the beginning of a new world of human living. The text affirms that finally a people on earth will be able to bring about the reign of God. In effect, he appears surrounded by clouds, the typical element of divine manifestations, receives from God “sovereignty, glory and kingship,” and is adored by all peoples, nations and languages (v. 14). The Jewish posterior tradition identified this collective person (the “son of man”) with the Davidic Messiah that would have to rule. In the same line, Jesus, calling himself “son of man,” will invoke this dignity and there will unleash against him an accusation of blasphemy during his trial before the high priest (Mt 27,63-66).
The second reading (2 Pt 1,16-19) is taken from the late writing of the primitive Church, attributed to the apostle Peter, probably written at the end of the 1st century. The author evokes the twofold witness of the apostles and of the prophets about Jesus Christ. The first, the apostles, that represent the word of the New Testament, were witnesses of the glory of Christ on the mount of the Transfiguration and heard the voice that came from heaven that confirmed him as the beloved Son of the Father (vv. 16-18); the second group, the biblical prophets that represent the work of the Old Testament, illuminated with their message the night of history until the day in which Christ will come again as the “morning star,” making it that everything may shine forth in the light of his glory (v. 19).
The gospel (Mk 9,2-10) of the Transfiguration, constructed in the light of the theophanies of the Old Testament, is a true anticipated proclamation of the glory of Easter. To capture the sense of the account it is necessary to place it in the context of the first announcement that Jesus makes to his disciples about his passion and death (Mk 8,31) and of his teaching about the journey of the painful renunciation of the Messiah and his disciples (Mk 8,34-9,1). The episode is situated exactly “six days afterwards” (Mk 9,2) of that first announcement and of that first instruction of Jesus about the way of the cross. The narrated fact is contrasted with the anterior context. Jesus stops speaking of pain and of the cross; now he shows himself full of light and of glory; now he does not reprimand Peter, that had not understood the mystery of the suffering Messiah (Mk 8,33), but that together with James and John, carries him to the height of the mountain to make him participate in his mystery of light and of life.
Everything happens on “a high mountain” (v. 2), symbolic space of the transcendence and of the divine world. In the same way that God “envelops himself with light like a mantle” (PS 104,2), the clothing of Jesus are transfigured full of resplendent light, allowing the present divine glory to be glimpsed in his person. The presence of Moses, that symbolizes the word of the Law, and of Elijah, that symbolizes the word of prophecy, indicates that with Jesus the history of salvation has arrived at his culmination. On the mountain, in effect, resounds the definitive word, the voice of the Father: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him” (v. 7). To the disciples the mystery of Jesus is revealed in this way: he is the Son. Precisely when the follow him unto the cross, they experience the divine glory and listen to the voice of the Father. And so it will always be from now on: the glory of God and of his word will be revealed where men and women will follow Jesus on the way of suffering love and a solidarity for others until the cross.
For the three disciples the experience was one and only. Rightly, Peter exclaims: “Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let’s make three tents…” (v.5). They have contemplated for a moment the only beauty worthy of being loved in itself, the only that will be necessary to desire and cultivate because it will be eternal; they have lived in history an instant of eternity, have tried the joy of communion and of the love of God. However, history has to continue. It has not arrived at the end. The petition of Peter is illusory. Time cannot be stopped, that which is transitory cannot be made permanent. It is necessary to come down the mountain. The three disciples came down, but they also transfigured, with the certainty that the way of the Master is the only that brings to life. At the end, “then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus” (v. 8). Jesus appears alone, because only he is the way and the meaning of everything. The voice that they have heard from God invites them to listen to him and to follow him unto the cross. Only so, will they be able to enter definitively in that glory and in that beauty that they had contemplated and rejoiced in before hand.
The living experience on the mountain is a true revelation of the glory of Jesus. The glorious Christ of Easter, the beloved Son of the Father, it is the same Jesus of Nazareth that journeys until death and announces his sorrowful passion. The transfiguration does not negate the cross, but is the revelation of its saving significance as journey that carries to life. Through this experience Jesus strengthens the faith of his disciples and introduces them to the paradox of Easter: a life that arrives through the death and a glory that is not evasion nor indifference in the face of the pain of history, but goal and culminating point of crucified and faithful love. A the same time, today’s feast is a hymn of hope. The kingdoms of the world (the beasts of the book of Daniel) will not conquer the kingdom of God. Christ Jesus, “the Son of man,” gathers in himself all the journey of faith and of hope of his people and realizes all their expectations of salvation for the present and for the future. The Transfiguration reveals that Christ is the conqueror and that the victory of evil and over death as been planted in the roots of humanity’s history. It touches upon all of us to live and to witness to the grace of this theophany. For this reason, the Christian, in an epoch where the search for ephemeral and deceiving transfigurations dominate, tries to live as a new man or woman and undertakes himself in the edification of the new world of the kingdom of God.