GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Matthew's Gospel says this:And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli′jah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli′jah.” He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”
That is the end of the Gospel passage here.
There are lots of questions we can ask here.
A few that I want to highlight are these:
1. Why does Matthew highlight for you the timing here?
He says “after six days Jesus took with Peter and James and John up the mountain.”
Why is that important?
He doesn't always tell you how many days have transpired before an event happens in the Gospel.
So what's the significance of it being after six days?
2. Why does Jesus just take Peter, James and John up the Mountain?
Why doesn’t he take all 12 apostles or all the crowds up the mountain?
Why these three particular figures?
3. What does it mean when it says Jesus was transfigured?
Why does his face shine like the sun and his garments become white as light?
What is the meaning of this, or should I say, what would that have meant to a Jew in the first century context, to Peter and James and John (they were all Jewish)?
So what would be the symbolism, the significance, of this revelation of Jesus' glory?
Obviously on one level it's showing his glory, his divine glory, but what would it have meant to them?
4. Why does Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus to talk with him?
Why these two particular figures?
5. What does Peter mean when he says “Lord it's good that we are here” or “well that we are here”?
And why do he and the other disciples respond to the voice and the cloud in the way that they do?
If you remember, the bright cloud overshadows them and the voice comes out of the cloud and it says that they were “filled with awe” and they fall on their faces.
Why do they fall on their faces?
What is the significance of that cloud coming down on top of the mountain?
6. Last but not least significantly, after they go down the mountain again, why does Jesus tell them to not tell anybody until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead?
So let’s go through each one of these together.
The first point that I would highlight here is just the basic issue of the transfiguration.
The Greek word here for transfigure is metamorphoō,
it is where we get the word metamorphosis from.
So it signifies a radical change here.
So Jesus's appearance is being radically transfigured, radically transformed, where they can see his divine glory.
So this was a momentous occasion here, it's not that Jesus had like a special look in his eyes or on his face or something like that.
This was a radical change, and that is why the word transfigure is an excellent way of expressing what that Greek word means.
So Jesus was metamorphosised before them — that is not a real word, I just made it up to give you a feel for the power of the Greek.
That is the first point.
The second point is that many of the questions that I just asked can be answered by recognizing that for a first century Jew, they would've seen several parallels between the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and the Old Testament accounts of Moses on Mount Sinai.
So that's really the key to unlocking this mystery of the Transfiguration.
So if you go back to the book of Exodus, especially chapters 24 and 34, there are a number of striking parallels between Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus on the mountain of the Transfiguration.
Which, by the way, we don't know the name for the mountain.
It's traditionally Mount Tabor in the Holy Land today, but the Gospel never tells us so I will just call it the mountain of the Transfiguration.
So here's the parallels for example.
In the book of Exodus, number one, it says that Moses went up the mountain of Sinai on the seventh day.
The same thing with the Transfiguration, it takes place after six days on top of the mountain, so Jesus is acting like a new Moses.
Second, when Moses goes up the mountain of Mount Sinai, he takes with him three special companions:
Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu.
Aaron was the high priest and Moses’ brother, and then Nadab and Abihu were his two sons, they were brothers as well.
So what does Jesus do?
He goes up the mountain with Peter, who is kind of like the high priest of the new covenant — I don’t have time to get into that right now; can get my CD Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Papacy
if you want to look at it — but he brings up Peter and then James and John who were also brothers just like Nadab and Abihu.
Why does he bring these three up?
Because he's preparing them for an experience like Moses had.
When Moses went up the mountain to meet God, he brought Aaron, Nadab and Abihu; Jesus brings Peter, James and John up the mountain for the same reason.
When Moses went up the mountain of Sinai, it says that “when he came down his face shone with the glory of having been in the presence of God,” that it reflected the glory of God whom he had encountered at the top of the mountain.
Whereas in the Gospel, Jesus goes up the mountain but his face is transfigured and it shines like the sun with its own light.
So what's going on here?
Well Jesus is both similar to Moses but is greater than Moses, because he's being revealed as the divine son of God, as the voice says from the cloud ,“this is my beloved son; listen to him.”
Fourth, and this is really important and people often miss it.
When Moses went up the mountain in the Old Testament, it said that the glory (the kavod
), the glory cloud of the Lord, came down upon the top of Mount Sinai.
This was the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, but later rabbis would go on to call it the shekinah.
Southern preachers will often say “the shu-ky-nuh glory cloud,” but the Hebrew is shek-ee-noh.
It is the tabernacle-ing presence of God, the glory of the Lord, in the Old Testament.
The same thing happens here in the New Testament.
When Moses and Elijah appear and are talking with Jesus and the disciples see them, it said “a cloud overshadowed them” and the disciples are filled with awe and they they fall on their faces.
Well because they know as Jews that when the glory cloud comes down, God himself is coming down to be in their presence.
So this is a theophany, a revelation of God, an appearance of God happening on the top of the mountain.
Finally, in the Old Testament, when the cloud descended, it says that “God spoke to Moses from the cloud.”
And the same thing is true here in the New Testament, the voice of the father speaks from the cloud and says the words, “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
So just like God spoke from the cloud in the Old Testament, so too he does in the New Testament.
So what then is the Mountain of the Transfiguration?
What is the mystery here?
Well the mystery is that this is like a new Mount Sinai.
Jesus is acting like a new Moses, but he's a new and greater Moses, and he's bringing the disciples up that mountain to encounter God, to enter into the mystery of God and to also reveal to them his divine sonship.
Up to this point he's only shown them, in a sense, the veil of his humanity.
They see him eat, they see him drink, they see him get tired; but now he's showing them that not only is he fully man, but he is also a divine person.
He's the glorious son of the Father.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So if you take that language back to 2 Timothy (the passage today), when Paul’s talking about God having saved us and called us with a holy calling or a holy vocation, he’s not talking about a particular vocation to the religious life or priesthood or become an apostle or something like that. He’s talking about the call to salvation itself—the call to Baptism. The reason this is important to stress is because Paul (in that context) is going to say, “In that context, we are saved not in virtue of our works but in virtue of God’s purpose and the grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.”
So the specific language here is that we are saved, Paul says, not according to works—the Greek, ou kata ta erga
. The Greek word erga
...it literally means “works.” So Paul says we’re not saved according to works, but we’re saved according to God’s own grace. The Greek word there is charis
. So not kata
, according to works, but kata
, grace...according to God’s grace and according to his purpose.
Now, I can imagine that there might be some of you watching this video, if you’re Catholic, thinking, “Well, wait...I thought our works do matter. I thought we were going to be judged according to works.” And that’s absolutely true. Paul himself in Romans 2:6, says that God…
...will render to every man according to his works…
So final judgment, final justification, absolutely will be according to both faith and works. But in context here, is Paul talking about final judgment? No. He’s talking about the initial call to the life of grace—the Good News of salvation, the good news of the forgiveness of sin. And in that case, what theologians call “initial justification”—the gift of grace that takes place at the beginning of the life of grace, the beginning of salvation—that absolutely is not according to works. It is pure grace. It’s a gift.
And if you have any doubt about that, just listen to another passage from St. Paul where he’s even more clear than in 2 Timothy. So this isn’t the reading for today, but it’s a parallel with the reading, so it can help you understand it better. In Ephesians 2:4-10, Paul’s talking to the Ephesians about their conversion from paganism (which the Ephesians were pagans) to becoming believers in Christ. And this is what he says about how that process works. Pay attention to what he says about grace and faith and works:
...God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…
If you skip down to verse 8, Paul continues:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast.
So pause there for just a second. In Ephesians 2, Paul is making very clear—and any Catholic should know this, if you don’t know this, you need to be clear on it—that we are saved by grace through faith and not because of any works. So the initial gift of salvation that God gives to, for example, the Ephesians, to whom Paul is writing, who turned from paganism and became members of the Church...that initial gift of salvation was not because of anything they had ever done. They didn’t earn the grace of salvation through their works. It’s a pure gift. They are saved by grace through their faith in Jesus Christ and not because of anything they had done. That is, as we’re going to see in a second, that’s Catholic doctrine, precisely because that’s the teaching of Scripture.
However—and this is important—that doesn’t mean that works don’t have any role in our salvation. In fact, if you look at the very next verse in Ephesians 2, Paul goes on to give a very specific role to works. So if you keep going to the next verse, you’ll see this, but I want to read it in context, so back up to verse 8, and then we’ll read all the way down to verse 10, and you’ll see the full picture. Paul says:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So notice what Paul goes on to say. No sooner has he said that we are not given the gift of salvation because of works, that he immediately goes on to say, with that said, we are created by God in Christ Jesus for good works. So in other words, once we become a member of the Body of Christ—that’s what he means when he says “in Christ Jesus”—the very purpose we have for being grafted into the Body of Christ is for the sake of good works. But notice, what does he say?
...which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10c)
So there’s this mysterious concurrence between God’s grace and our action. Notice there in Ephesians 2:10, even our good works—which we do because we have free will—were prepared by God beforehand through His grace. So for Paul, everything is grace. Everything is grace. The initial gift of salvation is a free gift of grace. Faith, our trust in Christ, is a gift of grace. And even the good works that we then begin to perform once we’re a member of Christ, for which we were created, those are the still the results of God’s grace. So everything is grace for Paul, and that’s the full Catholic picture of salvation that we get from St. Paul. We’re saved by grace, through faith, and created for good works in Christ Jesus...which, as Paul will say elsewhere, we will also be judged. God will render every man according to his works—Romans 2:6.
So, we could go into a lot more detail about that. If you want a little bit more on it, I actually co-authored a book called Paul, A New Covenant Jew
. It was written by myself, Dr. Michael Barber, and Dr. John Kincaid. And we have a chapter in there on justification and salvation. And we look at how Paul sees that in his letters. And we look at that from a Catholic perspective. So if you want a little more in depth treatment, you can look at our book Paul, A New Covenant Jew
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