A Reflection on the Readings on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, Sunday, August 6, 2023
The Book of Daniel may appear to be prophetic in nature, but it is actually an example of a literary genre known as “Apocalyptic,” which was popular during the period from about 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. This was a time of stress and persecution for Jews and, later, for Christians.
The Book of Revelation is another example of Apocalyptic writing. The Book of Daniel was probably written around the year 165 B.C. We don’t know who the author of this book is, but it takes its name from the hero of the book, who is presented to us as a young Jew taken captive during the Babylon Exile of 587 B.C. to around 538 B.C. It presents events and visions of Daniel during the exile but was actually written much later during the persecution of Antiochus IV (167 to 164 B.C.). Scholars point out that the book is not historically accurate. However, it was not written to record actual history but to comfort and strengthen the Jews during the persecution of Antiochus, providing hope with the promise that God will eventually set his people free and establish justice on earth if the people remain faithful. The stories in Daniel reflect the life of the Jews in the pagan world of Babylon. Still, there is certainly a correlation with the situation of Christians in the secular world, making Daniel relevant for us today.
During the exile, the Jews would have felt hopeless; the city of Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Before the exile, the Jewish mindset was that God resided in the temple; was always present to his people. When the temple and city were destroyed and the people carried into captivity, they would have felt that God had abandoned them because of their infidelity; there was no hope. The same situation would have existed under Roman persecution. Daniel’s visions would have brought hope.
Our reading is the very famous “Son of Man” revelation from a section of the book (chs. 7 – 12) made up of visions and revelations of Daniel. Here, Daniel envisions God on his throne, receiving “One like a Son of Man,” who will be given everlasting dominion and kingship over all the earth. The message to the ancient Jews (and to us) is that; through the Son of Man (the Messiah), God will establish peace and justice on the earth, and the people will live in harmony. It is a message of hope for the Jews in exile and for us in the modern world.
Our second reading is an equally famous one from the 2nd Letter of Peter wherein Peter is affirming to the people that he and James and John are not passing along mere hearsay in what he writes; he is an “eyewitness” of the majesty of Jesus and one who heard the voice of God from the heavens affirming that Jesus is the Son of God in whom God is well-pleased. His message is “altogether reliable,” and the people would do well to pay close attention to that message.
Our gospel is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. Notice that Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes as white as light, reminiscent of Daniel’s “One like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” The appearance of Moses and Elijah affirms the validity of the Law and the Prophets. And the apostles are present to witness this event so they will have faith in the Law and the Prophets and also because they will shortly also witness the crucifixion of Christ as a common criminal. After following Jesus for three years, seeing him crucified as a criminal could shake their faith. But, through the Transfiguration, they see the glory that is to follow the crucifixion, a glory that is available to the apostles and us if we do not lose faith.
Jesus also assured them that, after the scandal of the crucifixion, there would be a Resurrection. In other words, don’t lose faith when you witness the crucifixion; you will also witness the Resurrection and participate in that Resurrection.
The account of the Transfiguration is found in our scriptures for the same reason. We live in a very secular world where hatred, violence, terrorism, and immorality prevail. It’s hard to find any good news outside the doors of the church. We need that message of hope that comes to us in our readings today. The golden thread this week is: Maintain faith, trust in God.
Author: Ric Cross