LAST EPIPHANY - B - 18 MARK 9. 2-9
If the major theme of the Epiphany season is that of revealing the true nature of Jesus Christ, then, the Transfiguration of Jesus on the last Sunday of the Epiphany season is the climax of the revelation.
If the main symbol of the Epiphany season is that of light, then, the appearance of Jesus in all of his resplendent glory, if only for an instant of time, atop the mountain before the bewildered eyes of Peter, James, and John is the ultimate example.
We end the Epiphany season with a familiar story that is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels and appears to be all about Jesus, but is it. What is the real meaning of the event? What meaning does it hold for us today?
I have always been intrigued by the last verse of today’s reading. “As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” First of all what could they possibly say? How could they put into words what they had seen and heard? What did Jesus mean about the Son of Man risen from the dead?
Secondly, who would believe them? The story of Jesus’ “transformation” or “transfiguration” describes what seems to have been an actual event, but an event in which the deepest significance of everyday reality suddenly and overwhelmingly confronted Peter, James, and John. It was the kind of event, as we like to say, you cannot make up.
It would be easy to dismiss such an experience as a hallucination, albeit a very odd one. Can’t you just hear Peter blurting out, “I thought I saw Moses standing next to Jesus, but how could that be?” Or James saying, “I think I saw Elijah standing next to him also, but I must have just imagined it.” Then, there would be John asking, “ok, then, whose voice did we hear proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved; Listen to him.”
The whole experience was puzzling and not a little frightening one for the three. The Old Testament and tradition tells of various events like this, when the veil of ordinariness that normally prevents us from seeing the “inside” of a situation is drawn back, so to speak, and a fuller reality is disclosed.
However, unlike the revelations of St. John the Divine, for example, in the last book of the Bible, whose visions were futuristic, what Peter, James and John were experiencing was in the here and now.
Most of us do not have experiences like that, but some do. I had a seminary classmate who did. David and I became very close during our time together at school. Both of us were late vocation. He had left his family behind in Iowa while he attended seminary in Kentucky. Batching as he was, we often invited him over for a meal, especially during the holidays.
During Advent and Lent, we went on retreats together at the various monasteries in the area. It was while we were on a Lenten retreat at the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemane, near Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where, I might add, Thomas Merton once was a member of the community that David told me of the frequent visions he had of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
At first, I was highly skeptical. I had never known anyone who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, a saint or anything for that matter that represented the super natural. The whole idea was bit unnerving. I listened intently as he described how she appeared to him when he was praying. He never told me if she spoke to him, only that she appeared to him.
He confided in me that he had not told anyone else about his visions. He was afraid no one would believe him. For him they were life changing and had a lot to do with his choosing to enter seminary and to become a priest. After listening to him relate his experiences in detail, I was convinced that, he had indeed seen our Lady.
He, as well as others who have had such experiences usually regard them as highly important and life changing. For Peter, James, and John that life-change would occur later after Jesus had risen from the dead, and appeared to them in the upper room bearing the scars of the crucifixion.
Only then, would they understand what Jesus had meant when he said that they should not say anything about what they had seen or heard on the mountain, “Until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. "
Only then with Jesus’ resurrection appearance coupled with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, would their fear be removed. With their fear out of the way, their faith would enable them to connect the dots, as we say, between what Jesus had said and done in their presence for over a period of some three years regarding God and the coming kingdom.
Only then, would they be able to understand and realize what they had witnessed atop the mountain of the Transfiguration was not only a revelation of Jesus’ true nature as the Divine Son of God, resplendent in all His glory, but a glimpse of that same glory that would one day be theirs.
Only when they understood all of this would they be able to tell others in a convincing manner, what they had seen and what they had heard and what it now meant to them and would mean to all who would believe in Jesus as God’s Beloved Son.
Most of us will never experience anything like what Peter, James, and John experienced atop the mountain. Or, anything like the visions, my brother in Christ experienced, and perhaps still does to this day. Most of us do not interpret the details of our daily lives according to scriptural events. Perhaps we should. Many do not believe in the super natural. Perhaps they should.
However, each of us is called to do what the voice from heaven said: “Listen to him.” We are to listen to Jesus, because he is God’s Beloved Son. Moreover, as we learn to listen, even if sometimes we get scared and say the wrong things, as Peter did, we may find that glory overtakes us unawares.
For God continues to reveal Himself and His plan for each of us, drawing back the veil of ordinariness, even if it is only for an instant of time, so that we can see, through the eyes of faith, the vision glorious.
He does so in order to strengthen us to bear our cross, as he did the disciples, for the road that lies ahead, as we continue the journey to God by the means of Grace and in the Hope of Glory. AMEN+