FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION (Cycle A)
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9
2 Peter 1:16-19
All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind. That is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Messiah-King Revealed in Glory
This Sunday we celebrate the day Jesus revealed Himself in His Divine Glory to the Apostles Peter, James, and John before His Crucifixion and Resurrection. In this feast, we are also celebrating Jesus' kingship over all creation and the promise of our future resurrection with Him in glory.
In the First Reading, the prophet Daniel receives a vision of the Messiah who had the appearance of a man, ascending in glory on a cloud to God in Heaven. Daniel's vision, seen from the vantage point of the heavenly court, was also seen by Jesus' Apostles and disciples from an earthly perspective on the day Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, forty days after His Resurrection: ... as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight (Acts 1:9). What they couldn't see was what took place next in the Prophet Daniel's vision as Jesus, the Divine Messiah, was presented to God the Father. Jesus, the Messiah-King, fulfilled Daniel's vision in the Ascension when He received as a reward, in His victory over sin and death, dominion over all the earth and its nations and peoples.
The Responsorial Psalm is a liturgical hymn calling for the covenant people to rejoice in proclaiming the God their Divine King. The psalmist describes God's awesome revelation of Himself in His Divine Glory, recalling Israel's awesome experience of God at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16-20). The psalmist then proclaims God's sovereignty over the cosmos and His reign as the Divine King over the earth—over all its nations and all its peoples and over all other powers.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ restored the Kingdom of God on earth. His faithful subjects, those redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, share in His victory over sin and death. The Church reads from this psalm on the Feast of Transfiguration because it recalls the vision of the glorified Messiah-King seen by the Prophet Daniel and three of the Apostles in their Transfiguration experience, described in each of the Synoptic Gospels and retold by St. Peter in his eyewitness account (Second Reading). The Psalm Reading response is "The Lord is King, the most high over all the earth," and we have the hope that one day we will sing this response in Christ's Divine Presence when we are with our King in glory!
The Transfiguration event was a vision of Christ's glory that St. Peter witnessed and later wrote about in his second letter to the universal Church (Second Reading). St. Peter's Transformation experience was the fulfillment of the vision of the glorified Messianic King witnessed centuries earlier in the sixth century BC by the prophet Daniel (First Reading). The experience of the Transfiguration changed Peter's life. It was a vision he must have clung to in the dark hours of Christ's Passion and death and during his years as the Vicar of Christ's earthly Kingdom of the universal Church.
Our Gospel Reading recounts the experience of three of the Apostles as they witnessed Jesus transformed in His Divine Glory in the presence of two Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. The experience was not only a revelation of the Divine Messiah but a revelation of the Most Holy Trinity as God the Holy Spirit overshadowed God the Son in a bright cloud, and God the Father's voice was heard from Heaven, acknowledging Jesus as His Divine Son.
Jesus' Kingdom of the Church on earth and in Heaven is an everlasting Kingdom that will "stand forever" (prophesied in Dan 2:44; 7:14). Those in covenant with Jesus and who serve His earthly Kingdom of the Church are the Messiah-King's subjects who receive a revelation of the Living Christ in every Eucharistic celebration and faithfully and obediently await His glorious return.
The First Reading Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 ~ The Vision of the Messianic King
9 As Daniel 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 the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.
Daniel received a prophetic vision of the divine judicial proceeding convened against humanity in the heavenly Sanctuary when the Book of Life and the Book of Deeds were opened to present evidence for and against mankind (Rev 20:12). The "Ancient One" is God the Father, and the "one like a Son of man" is the Messianic King who looks like a human being. Daniel received his vision in the 6th century BC, but the event taking place in the vision did not take place until the Messianic Age when Jesus, the victorious Messiah-King, received divine rule over all the earth after His glorious Ascension. The vision of God the Father that Daniel witnesses in verses 9-10 is reminiscent of Israel's theophany of God in His glory on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:18-19; also see Ps 50:3 and Rev 5:11).
13a I saw one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven
The title "son of man" in Scripture usually means a human being, as applied often to the prophet Ezekiel (see for example Ez 2:2-3). "Son of Man" was Jesus' favorite title for Himself. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses the title "Son of man" for Himself thirty-two times. In the Gospels of Mark and John, He uses the title for Himself fourteen times and in the Gospel of Luke Jesus uses the title for Himself twenty-five times. However, when Jesus uses the title for Himself, He uses it not only in the sense of His humanity but in the sense of the Messiah-King of Daniel's vision. His intentional use of the title in this way becomes clear in Jesus' trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin when He uses the title "Son of man" for Himself the last time (see Mt 26:64; Mk 14:62; Lk 22:69). It was Jesus' use of the title "Son of man" in answer to the High Priest's question if He was the Messiah when He quoted from Daniel 7:13 that caused the High Priest and the Sanhedrin to condemn Jesus to death for blasphemy. They understood that He was claiming to be the Divine Messianic king of Daniel's vision (Mt 26:65-66; Mk 14:63-64; Lk 22:70-71).
he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, 14 the one like a Son of man received dominion,
glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His
dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship
shall not be destroyed.
This part of Daniel's vision, seen from the vantage point of the heavenly court, was also seen by Jesus' Apostles and disciples from an earthly perspective on the day Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, forty days after His Resurrection: ... as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight (Acts 1:9). What they couldn't see was what took place next as Jesus was presented to God the Father in verse 14 of Daniel's vision. Jesus, the Messiah-King, received as a reward, in His victory over sin and death, dominion over all the earth. His Kingdom of the Church on earth and in Heaven is an everlasting kingdom that will "stand forever" (prophesied by Daniel in Dan 2:44), and we are the Messiah-King's faithful subjects who serve His Kingdom and await His glorious return.
Responsorial Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9 ~ The Lord is King
The response is: "The Lord is King, the most high over all the earth."
1 The LORD is king;
let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad. 2 Clouds and darkness are round about him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
5 The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth. 6 The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory.
9 Because you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth, exalted far above all gods [above the angels].
[...] = Old Testament Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation; also see the quote in Hebrews 1:6b.
The title of this liturgical hymn is A call to rejoice: the Lord reigns and reveals himself as king. The title gives us the theme of the psalm, calling for the covenant people to acclaim the Lord God as the King of "all the earth." The psalm opens with a proclamation of the Lord as King and an invitation to all peoples of the earth to rejoice (verse 1). Then the psalmist describes God's awesome revelation of Himself and the glory that precedes the Lord (verses 2 and 5-6). The reference to "many islands" (also translated "coastlines") in verse 1 is a reference to distant countries over which the Divine King also has sovereignty (see Is 42:4, 10, 12). The theophany described in verses 2 and 5-6 recalls Israel's awesome experience of God at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16-20) and proclaims God's sovereignty over earth and the cosmos.
Verse 9 is Israel's acclaim to the Lord God who reigns as the only God and Divine King over the entire earth—over all its nations and all its peoples and over all other powers. The Masoretic Hebrew text (our translation) has the word "gods," in verse 9. However, the Greek Septuagint translation has "angels" instead of "gods" as does the quote of verse 9 in Hebrews 1:6b, which makes more sense since there is no other God but Yahweh and He is exalted above the angels who are His servants.
It is in Christ the King who restores the Kingdom of God on earth by defeating the power of Satan over the earth and mankind by destroying sin and death. It is His faithful subjects, those redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, who share in His victory. The Church reads from this psalm on the Feast of Transfiguration because it recalls the vision of the glorified Messiah-King seen by the Apostles in their transfiguration experience described in each of the Synoptic Gospels.
The Second Reading 2 Peter 1:16-19 ~ Peter's Eyewitness
Testimony of Jesus in His Glory
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.
St. Peter begins this passage by assuring Christians that the Gospel message of salvation and the story of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection are not myths like those about the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses that the majority of the population of the Roman world worshipped. The "we" in verse 16 refers to Peter and Jesus' other Apostles and disciples. Peter writes that the people can have confidence that the testimony the Apostles give concerning Jesus Christ and His teachings and works are true because it is eyewitness testimony.
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.
St. Peter assures his readers of the reliability of the apostolic message by testifying to hearing the Divine Voice of God from heaven identifying Jesus as His Divine Son who has God's full approval (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35). The "we" Peter mentions in verses 18 and 19 refer to his companions at the Transfiguration event: the Apostles James and John Zebedee (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2; Lk 9:28).
19a Moreover, we
possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable.
In addition to witnessing the Transfiguration event and the other works of Jesus, Peter declares that he and the other Apostles possess the "prophetic message" They received directly from Jesus the authority to teach, to forgive sins, to guide, and to discipline His Church in the apostolic power to "bind and loose." This power was first given to Peter by Jesus in Matthew 16:16-19, then to all the Apostles in Matthew 18:18, and was repeated to them by Jesus after His Resurrection in John 20:22-23. The prophetic message is also equivalent to the Scriptures since the Old Testament spoke prophetically about the coming of the Messiah and His Kingdom. St. Peter's message is that the teachings of Christ, like the Scriptures themselves, are completely trustworthy because the Scriptures are the word of God and Jesus is the Living Word.
19b 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.
The poetic imagery in Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path, may have inspired Peter. Using similar poetic language, Peter reminds his audience that the teachings Jesus passed on to the Apostles and the same teachings the Apostles have passed on to the faithful are like a "lamp shining in a dark place" that will guide them on their journey to salvation. The prophetic message that the Church gives will serve as a lamp until "day dawns." The promise of day dawning is probably a reference to the Second Advent of the Lord and the dawn of the new Heaven and earth (Rev 21:1-4).
and the morning star rises...
The image of the "morning star" can have three meanings:
In Revelation 2:28 the "morning star" symbolized Jesus' resurrection victory over death, and in Revelation 22:16, Jesus identifies Himself as the "morning star": I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star" (Rev 22:16).
... in your hearts.
This coming in hearts is the "lamp" of the prophetic word that will give way to a deeper and more complete understanding in the hearts of the faithful when the Lord Jesus returns. Just as the First Advent of Christ and His Gospel message of the gift of salvation has Let light shine out of darkness, and has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6), so too the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, the "Morning Star," will cause the light of the eternal day to shine in our hearts and souls forever.
The Gospel of Matthew 17:1-9 ~ The Transfiguration
1 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. 4 Then 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." 5 While 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." 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid." 8 And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. 9 As 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."
The disciples and Apostles must have been frightened and discouraged after Jesus' first prediction of His death in Matthew 16:21-23. To give them a vision to grasp in their darkest hour when the fulfillment of the prediction in His death, Jesus took three Apostles, Peter, James, and his brother John Zebedee, up a "high mountain" to let them witness a manifestation of His glory. It is a revelation that confirms He is the Son of God and that He will come in glory when all has been fulfilled. Jesus will also select these same three Apostles apart from the others when He faces His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Their selection apart from the other Apostles isn't favoritism. It is an expression of the hierarchy that Jesus is establishing for His Kingdom of the Church.
and led them up a high mountain
It is significant that the location of this experience took place on a mountain. Mighty works/revelations of God often took place on mountains, including the Theophany of God on Mount Sinai (see for example: Gen 22:2, 11; Ex 19:16-20; 1 Kng 18:19-39; 19:11-18; 1 Chr 21:15-17; 2 Chr 3:1; and Mt 5:1-2).
As the new Moses, Jesus ascends the mountain—not to find a revelation of God but to give a revelation of God the Son to His three Apostles. This narrative is one of the few outside of the Passion narrative in Matthew's Gospel that contains a chronological tie. Verse 1 discloses that it was six days after Peter's confession faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God that they came to "a high mountain" (also see Mk 9:2). Some of the Fathers of the Church interpret the "after six days" to suggest they ascended the mountain on the seventh day, like Moses in Exodus: After Moses had gone up, a cloud covered mountain. The glory of the LORD settled upon Mount Sinai. The cloud covered it for six days, and on the seventh day he called to Moses from the midst of the cloud (Ex 24:15-16).
There are two traditions identifying the mountain. One tradition names Mt. Hermon at Caesarea Philippi, but the more popular tradition names Mt. Tabor. It is an isolated mountain about six days journey from Caesarea Philippi, west of the Sea of Galilee, and in the northeast portion of the Plain of Esdraelon that rises to a height of 1,843 feet. Mt. Tabor has been celebrated as the site of the Transfiguration since the 4th century AD.
2 And he was
transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became
white as light.
In Greek, the word "transfigured" is metamorphoo. That ...his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light recalls the description of Moses' radiant face after being in the presence of God (see Ex 34:29-35). Jesus' radiant appearance and His white garment also recall Daniel's vision of the "man" (probably the pre-Incarnate Christ) dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold around his waist, whose "body was like chrysolite, his face shone like lightening, his eyes were like fiery torches, his arms and feet looked like burnished bronze, and his voice sounded like the roar of a multitude (Dan 10:5-6). Then, there is also St. John's vision of the glorified Christ in the Book of Revelation: ... and in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest. The hair of his head was as white as white wool or as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. His feet were like polished brass refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing water Rev 1:13-15.
3 And behold,
Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
The Apostles share their vision of the glorified Christ in the presence of the two long-dead prophets, Moses and Elijah who represent the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). Together these two servants of God represented the entire revelation of Sacred Scripture. In St. Luke's account of the Transfiguration, he tells us that Moses and Elijah also appeared in glory and discussed with Jesus the coming hour of His "exodus," meaning His departure, "from Jerusalem" (Lk 9:30-31).
The disciples and Apostles knew Jesus in His human form, but in the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus revealed Himself in His divine glory. He reveals His true identity to His three Apostles in the presence of the Old Covenant law-giver and liberator, Moses, and the great 9th century BC prophet Elijah. In the epiphany on the Mount of Transfiguration, the three Apostles witnessed the coming together of the Old and New Covenants with Christ as the beginning and the end of divine revelation. Moses and Elijah, who embodied the Law and the prophets, represented the Old Covenant Church. Peter, James, and John embodied the hierarchy of the new Israel, the New Covenant Church of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. It was a vision of the supernatural the Apostles would need to strengthen themselves and their brother Apostles and Jesus' other disciples in the covenant ordeal they were to face in the climax of Jesus' ministry.
4 Then Peter
said to Jesus in reply, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I
will make three tents [booths] here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for
John's Gospel does not mention the Transfiguration. St. John rarely repeats what the Synoptic Gospels sufficiently covered, but he does mention in the second year of Jesus' ministry that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the pilgrim feast of Sukkoth, known in English as the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Jn 7:1-2, 10). The covenant obligations for the festival are given in Leviticus 23:33-43. In Leviticus 23:42, God commanded: "During this week every native Israelite among you shall dwell in booths, that your descendants may realize that, when I led the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, I made them dwell in booths [tents], I, the LORD am your God."
If the event of the Transfiguration was indeed near the time for the pilgrim Feast of Sukkoth/Booths (also designated in English as Tabernacles or Shelters), Peter's suggestion about making booths/tents on the mountain is reasonable. If this is the case, Peter has realized that the old covenantal order is no longer binding and it is not necessary to go to the Jerusalem Temple to worship God when they can worship God the Son on the mountain. Notice that Jesus does not rebuke Peter. Jesus always corrects Peter when he has incorrectly understood Jesus' mission. However, since Jesus said every part of the law must remain "until all things have taken place," meaning His sacrificial death and the completion of the ritual requirements of the Old Law (Mt 5:17-18), He does go to Jerusalem for the pilgrim feast of Sukkoth/Booths, approximately six months before his last trip to Jerusalem and His Passion (Jn chapters 7-8).
5 While 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.
The Greek word for the shadow of the cloud cast over them is episkiazo. It is the same word found in the account of the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation (Lk 1:35). It is also the same word used in the Greek translation of Exodus when God's Spirit overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 40:34). A cloud is a frequent vehicle for God's Divine Presence in Scripture (Ex 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-16; 33:9 and 2 Mac 2:8). The Divine Voice the Apostles heard is the same voice heard at Jesus' Baptism, and it is another revelation of the Most Holy Trinity that also took place at Jesus' Baptism:
This significant event of Jesus' transfiguration into His Divine Glory is tied both in time and meaning to two events concerning St. Peter:
The pronouncement of the Divine Voice, "this is my beloved Son," is confirmation of Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God at Caesarea Philippi, and the words spoken by the Divine Voice, "listen to Him," are a rebuke of Peter's refusal to listen to Jesus' announcement of His coming Passion a short time later.
The command of the Divine Voice of God from heaven, "Listen to Him," is not only a rebuke of Peter but also confirmation that Jesus is the prophet like Moses that God promised the people in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. That prophecy ends with a promise and a command as God promises: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command. If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it (Dt 18:18-19; emphasis added). In Acts 3:19-23, Peter will quote this passage to the Jewish crowd, telling them Jesus is the supreme prophet of God's promise.
6-8 When the
disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them,
saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid." 8 And
when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
Like the children of Israel who heard the voice of God in the Theophany at Sinai (Ex 20:18), and like the prophet Daniel experiencing the divine in his vision of the Messiah-King (Dan 9:15-18; 10:7-9), the three Apostles are filled with fear and fall to the ground. Jesus immediately comforts them, as Daniel was comforted by the "man dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold with burning eyes" who told him not to be afraid (Dan 10:10-12), and when they raised their eyes, Jesus was as He was before the transfiguration.
9 As 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."
Coming down from the mountain, Jesus commands the three Apostles again not to make known what they have discovered about Jesus' true identity (as in Mt 16:20). It is not time for the hatred of the opposition to Jesus to reach its climax. When He publically reveals His true identity, it will be the spark that will ignite His Passion and death.
The Transfiguration of the Christ presents the Apostles and the reader with the full mystery of Jesus' true identity. The miraculous transformation of the human Jesus into the glorified Divine Son puts the coming Passion and death of Jesus into perspective. The experience will give the Apostles the assurance that Jesus' suffering and death will end in the triumph of His glorious Resurrection on the third day, as He has tried to tell them ( Mt 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). It is the memory of His glory that they witnessed that will sustain Sts. Peter, James, and John when they face their private ordeals during the events of the Passion. And, it is the sharing of their vision of the glorified Jesus that will encourage the other Apostles and disciples to remain faithful. It is a vision that is also meant to encourage us. If we remain faithful and obedient to the commands of Jesus, then one day we too will see Him in His glory, and we will also hear the voice of God.
Daniel 7:10 (CCC 678), 7:13 (440); 7:14 (CCC 664)
2 Peter 1:16-19 (CCC 154)
Matthew 17:1-9 (CCC 444, 554); 17:5 (CCC 444)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017