The Transfiguration – 06 August 2023
Lectionary Readings: Dan. 7:9-10.13-14; Ps. 96:1-2.5-6.9; 2 Pet. 1:16-19; Matt. 17:1-9
Theme: Listen to the Beloved Son
The Gospel tells us that Jesus was transfigured before the three disciples: His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light (Mt. 17:2). It was a change into something unusual and never seen before. While Jesus was seen by the disciples in his glory, a voice from the cloud affirms Jesus’ uniqueness, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased, listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5).
Together, these give us a glimpse of the glory of Jesus that is to come and of Jesus being glorified by the Father (prompting some scholars to say that the transfiguration is a “displaced resurrection story”). We are told to see Jesus as the beloved and glorified son of God. We are to listen to what Jesus tells us.
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is told in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36 and Matthew 17:1-13). It is proclaimed every Second Sunday of Lent. It is considered a milestone in the ministry of Jesus and the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches on August 6.
While the First Reading from the Book of Daniel points to the mystery of the transfiguration and gives us a vision of the glory and dominion of the Son of Man (Christians believe to be Jesus), the Second Reading testifies to the fact of transfiguration. Peter, who was one of three disciples who witnessed the transfiguration says: We ourselves heard this voice saying . . . (“This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (2 Peter 1:17-18). His testimony’s emphasis is not on what he has seen (the transfigured Jesus) but on what he had heard.
We have heard the message of the voice at the baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:17). It includes allusions to the Messiah (“my Son” in Ps. 2:7), the “beloved” (Isaac in Gen. 22:2) and God’s servant (Isa. 42:1). The addition of “Listen to him” may allude to Moses (“you shall heed such a prophet” in Deut. 18:15).
Harrington (2007) says the phrase “a voice from heaven” may reflect or be connected with the rabbinic bat qol (“a daughter of a voice”). While many have interpreted bat kol as an echo of a word uttered in heaven, Kohler and Blau in an article in the Jewish Encyclopedia, say it is not an echo. They say bat kol means “sound” or “resonance” and refers to the “reverberation or hum caused by the motion of all things, which fills the whole world.” It is a heavenly or divine voice which proclaims God’s will or judgement, deeds, and commandments.
When the disciples heard the voice of God, they fell on their faces and were very much afraid. Fear at hearing the voice of God is a common experience in the Hebrew Scriptures (Deut. 4:33, Hab. 3:2). But Jesus tells the disciples not to fear. We too have Jesus’ assurance. We need not fear hearing and knowing God’s words and the truths in our life. In a world full of competing truths and fake news, where can we hear and find Jesus’ voice? Among the answers are: in the Scriptures, in the Eucharist, in our liturgy, in our prayers and in our day-to-day life. But hearing is not enough. As the motto of the alumni of Bat Kol Bat Kol Institute for Jewish Studies (now ISPS-Ratisbonne Christian Centre for Jewish Studies) goes: We hear and we do. (Deut. 5:27)
For Reflection and Discussion: 1 What has been a key learning from Jesus that has transfigured you or your life? 2. What are ways you can listen more to Jesus and also lead others (like members of your family or community) to hear him very well?
Bibliography: Kohler and Blau, “Bat Kol” in https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14725-voice-of-heaven; Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 338: Matthew 14-28 (Texas:1995); Harrington, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew (Minnesota: 2007)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna July 2014 and July 2023