Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration, Year C 2019
Luke portrays Jesus as the Man who prays. He weaves his Gospel narrative around prayer. Everything happens either when Jesus is praying or after He has prayed. Even the circumstances of Jesus’s birth, the annunciation and the nativity stories have prayer tones. “And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour… And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord… And Zachariah was troubled when he saw him” (Luke 1:10-12).
For Luke, prayer is much more than saying words. Prayer is life. It breathes and it effects change. It is Jesus’ way of being. His whole life was prayer, an offering to the Father. He lived this life to the full and before He ascended into heaven, He prayed God’s blessing on those who were with Him at the Ascension. “While He blessed them, He departed from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). Again, something happened when Jesus prayed.
Another remarkable event in Luke’s Gospel that happened during Jesus’ prayer is the Transfiguration. According to the Gospel reading we have just heard from Luke 9:28-36, “As He prayed, the aspect of His face was changed, and His clothing became brilliant as lightning.” Why is Luke doing this, situating every salvific event in the context of prayer? For all we know, Luke is using his skills as a physician to stitch together vivid imagery of the power of prayer.
Luke is drawing us in. He is calling us to follow the path the Head, Christ Jesus has trekked. He wants us to be men and women of prayer. He wants us to see prayer as something real, a way of life that transforms and transfigures us. He wants us to breathe and live the life of prayer. He is shedding new light on prayer. He seems to be saying that prayer is that space where we bring our own reality to encounter the reality of God. And when this happens, new life is born.
“His face was changed, and His clothing became brilliant as lightning.” This is the new life; the reality of the Son met the reality of the Father, and there is newness, new life. Everything begins to make sense. “Elijah and Moses appeared in glory, and they were speaking about His passing which He was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” The New Law, Christ is revealed in Glory and the New Prophet, the One who all the prophecies of old was about has now been revealed.
And He in turn reveals the Father. He reveals the glory that awaits us. He reveals our future. He confirms our hope. The Transfiguration therefore is a statement of hope. Luke situates the Transfiguration narrative shortly after Jesus’ revelation of His passion and death. Some biblical scholars believe Luke did this on purpose, to inspire faith and to assure the disciples that death doesn’t have the final say. It was an event that points us forward while we live in the present.
So, the Father speaks, “This is My Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him.” Here the Father reveals the credentials of His Son. He okays His Son and presents Him to the world as trustworthy. This is revolutionary in the religious world. It speaks of the uniqueness of the Christian God. Unlike the gods of other religions who are in rivalry, the Christian God is a family of Persons in which each of the Persons is in the art of self-giving and other affirming.
But there is something more to the text. It is the command of the Father, “Listen to Him”. Listen to how My Son is selfless. Listen to how He obeys Me His Father, He let go of His own will in order to do My own will. Listen to how He is forever seeking My Face in prayer and coming to me at all stages of His life. Listen to His promises, for they are Mine. Listen to Him for He is My Word. Whatever He says to you is what I am saying to you. Listen and obey Him.
Talking about listening, Walter Brueggemann, the Author of Interpretation… Genesis has this to say, “The capacity to listen in ways which transform, depends upon trust in the speaker, readiness to be impacted, and willingness to have newness come into one’s life.” Therefore, for us to be transfigured, that is, to experience the newness that every encounter with God brings, we have to trust the Son, who is not just the Speaker of the Word, but He is the Word.
Listening in the way described by Brueggemann gives prayer another nuance. It isn’t only what we say to the Father, what we choose to do or how we want to live our life, but prayer is also an act of active listening to what the Father is saying in the Son through His Church, what He wants of us and how He wants us to live. Thus, prayer becomes a kind of virtue; a repeated action, a habit that makes the good possible and unravels the beauty lurking in our own realities.
There is another detail in Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, “Jesus took with Him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray.” Notice the clause, “Jesus took with Him…” Prayer is never a private thing we do. It is always Jesus taking us with Him. It is always the Bridegroom, Christ taking the hands of His Bride, we, the Church. He takes His Bride out of the plains, the familiar, Her own reality and journeys with Her so that She will know and love Him.
So, He takes Her up the mountain, giving Her opportunity to let go of the baggage She has accumulated. He helps His Bride to be free of self-preoccupation and self-love which stands in Her way of knowing and loving Him. Climbing the mountain is another metaphor in Luke’s Gospel for prayer through which the Transfiguration is possible. Like Peter and John and James, Jesus wants to take us up the mountain. He wants us to take His Hand and journey with Him.
Fr. Francis Afu