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The Transfiguration of the Lord: Hindsight interpretations

Today’s readings: Daniel 7, 9-10.13-14; 2 Peter 1, 16-19; Matthew 17, 1-9.

One of the major difficulties or challenges we face in a digital age is to distinguish between what is virtual and what is real. It is also the difficulty we all face in daily life to see clearly between fact and fiction. This can impact also on our religion, which in an age that has turned so rational and empirical, can many a time be perceived as fiction, otherworldly, and not really speaking to the real facts of life.

I am not entering into Peter’s shoes who, by what the gospel narrates today, seemed to have failed to distinguish clearly between what was really happening around him and real life. “It is wonderful for us to be here,” he exclaimed. It is the feeling of enjoying something out of the ordinary. And he actually desired to prolong almost permanently that idyllic experience. But, as often happens in life with things that are really enlightening, they last only a few moments. “When they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.”

In the midst of factual stories and narratives that make up the entire Jesus journey, Matthew calls this episode a ‘vision’. Actually it belongs to the genre in biblical language that we call apocalyptic, the same language we read today from Daniel in the first reading. Apocalyptic language is very rich in symbolism, it is almost a code that needs to be deciphered and interpreted.

Matthew calls it a vision because it calls for interpretation, it is also an interruption from the ordinary happenings and wanderings of Jesus. It happens on “a high mountain”, where Jesus took with him the chosen three, not the entire cohort of disciples. It is an event wrapped in language that recalls fiction, descriptive of things that cannot be experienced by the ordinary senses: his face shone like the sun, his clothes became as white as the light, Moses and Elijah were talking to him.

Biblically it is one of those events we call ‘theophanies’, or manifestations of God. Strictly speaking, throughout the Jesus journey God was manifesting Himself in Jesus with a human face. But here we have an interruption. It is a vision because in the context of the gospel narrative it is an anticipation of something beyond what is worldly.

This vision is actually opening a window on the enthronment of Jesus, on God’s victory which for the time being was difficult to be grasped in the humanity of Jesus. Peter’s reaction shows that the vision of what the three were seeing was beyond them, even ungraspable to their mind and heart. Yet, it was treasured by them, and much later, as we read from Peter’s letter in the second reading, its meaning was grasped with hindsight. Peter refers to it as “the majesty we had seen for ourselves”.

As believers, hindsight interpretations are fundamental for faith. Pope Francis writes in his The Joy of the Gospel that “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or of a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. We experience interruptions in daily life which, if and when attended to, can open for us new horizons and allow us the vision that gives assurance.

Faith can easily be reduced to a routine of life. The transfiguration narrative calls on us to be attentive for those interruptions God provides in life and that, with hindsight, can corroborate the rest of our life journey with Him.

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