Grace to you!
As I was preparing the reflection for this morning, on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the news of a terrible massacre of at least 11 inside St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Ugwu Onye in Ozubulu of Anambra State Nigeria broke. At least 18 were also wounded. My heart bleeds for this heartless killing due to an alleged feud resulting in a gun battle. Therefore, I dedicate today’s reflection to the victims and their families, also praying that justice be done, as well as be seen to have been done. Amen.
No body celebrates a hopeless cross. If the cross were the end of life, such a world would be the most loathsome and pitiable. The pain would be unbearable.
Our natural instinct, which shrinks at the least threat of fire, accident, pain, etc., shows we are wired to look for what is comfortable.
Consider a messiah who schooled his disciples on how their followership of him will entail a lot of suffering. Not only did the messiah foretell his own death in the hands of authorities (Mt 16:21-23), he equally told the disciples in plain words that they too will terribly suffer and be ready to lose their life (Mt 16:24-28). In our world today, such a message would have been dark and pessimistic. During the time of Jesus it was too.
Recall that many in the Jewish camp believe suffering, the cross, was a curse. So why would the messiah preach of persecution, suffering, death and doom for himself and for his followers?
I tell you, if the message were only about that without what is to come after the cross, it would have been too much for the apostles to handle. The Lord knows and he decides to show them what is beyond the cross. Smart move. The Lord Jesus Christ is the leader par excellence.
The dark and gloomy, leaving us without hope, isn’t the Christian message. The late famous French theologian Henri de Lubac’s quoted analogy of a Christian as one who “passes through the battlefield with a rose in hand” is fitting. And, I will add that our hope as believers is like one who passes through the battlefield with a rose of victory in hand.
We are not second-guessing the final victory. The Lord has already won the victory. Our final destination is already guaranteed.
It is like making a long journey back to your beach home if you have one. No matter how long or stressful the route is, you are certain that you have a home by the beach where you can feel at rest; overlooking the beautiful blue skies and the colorful waves of the sea from your balcony.
The Lord Jesus wanted three of his apostles to see that his was not about a cross without a crown. His was suffering with unimaginable glory. Hence, Scripture says, six days have passed (Mt 17:1); that is, after the message on the cross, before something gloriously dramatic was to be shown to Peter, James and John.
Why didn’t Jesus invite the rest of the apostles to get a glimpse of the glory revealed through the transfiguration? Only the Lord could answer this question. Perhaps, when we go to heaven we would ask him.
However, the three chosen apostles have unique places among the group. Peter was the one the Lord had chosen to lead the Church, the first Pope. So, he had to see where he is leading the Church, the glory of heaven in Christ. This reminds me of a principle in leadership. The leader must have a clear vision of where he or she is going; otherwise, pessimism would dominate the culture of the organization. The negative impact is huge.
James was the first of the apostles to be martyred. So, his witness would be the first in the apostolic college to taste of the glory. John, the beloved apostle, not only was the closest to Jesus; he was to live longer than the rest of the apostles. So, he could be, sort of, the last man standing, bearing witness to what they had already seen during the transfiguration. Thus, these three have unique testimonies to the entire Church.
About the transfiguration itself, the three apostles saw in a glimpse what the glory of the Lord is like. Scripture describes the event using limited human language. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” (Mt 17:2).
I love Peter’s reaction. He wanted to stay up on the mountain and not come down, requesting the Lord that they build three tents, one for the Lord and the other two for Moses and Elijah.
I love a line added by the Gospel of Luke regarding Peter’s request: “He does not know what he was talking about” (Luke 9:33). Certainly, Peter didn’t know, because he was so overwhelmed that he simply wanted to remain where he was.
The brightness of the transfigured face and form of Jesus’s body was so dazzling that the apostles have not seen a beauty such as that. They would prefer not to come down anymore and to simply enjoy what they see.
But the Lord says to them, “Let us go down.”
How sad they must have felt. The Lord was keeping it real. He shows us the glory to come. He assures us of the final goal, which is life and grace in Him, the fulfillment of all human desires. He assures us that all the sufferings we face, as Saint Paul writes, are nothing in comparison to the glory to come (Rm 8:18).
Nonetheless, he wouldn’t fail to remind us that the way to that glory was and is through the cross. Thus, for us as believers, nothing is worth taking away our hope, since our hope is Christ, the fullness of glory.
May the message of the Transfiguration reassure you as a believer so you can see that beyond your pains and sufferings, in Christ and with Christ, glory is certain in the end. As the saying goes, the person who laughs last, laughs the best.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Pt 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.