Msgr. Owen Campion
Msgr. Owen Campion
The Sunday Gospel
August 1, 2017 // Columns

‘The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth’

Msgr. Owen Campion
Msgr. Owen Campion
The Sunday Gospel

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Reading: Matthew 17:19

This weekend the church invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

The first reading is from the Book of Daniel. When this book was written, composed by an author whose identity has been lost, times were terrible for the Jews. Seldom had they been worse.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., his vast empire disintegrated and powerful generals took parts for themselves. The part seized by Seleucus was centered in Antioch and included the Holy Land.  Decades passed. Seleucus also died, and was succeeded by his descendants, one of whom – Antiochus IV – saw himself as divine.

Not only did Antiochus imagine that he was a god, but he brutally forced his subjects to worship him.  Pious Jews refused. The Book of Daniel is about other Hebrew heroes who resisted idolatry, but the purpose of the book is clear: to rally Jews living under Antiochus IV to refuse to yield to the royal demands that they salute Antiochus as a god.

In this reading, the subject of the book, Daniel, dreams of the world in which Almighty God is supreme, and all proclaim the greatness of God.

If Daniel was written in code, so was the Second Epistle of Peter, which provides the second reading.  This epistle appeared when times were bad, indeed fearful, for Christians. The Roman Emperor Nero could never be accused of timidity when it came to oppressing Christians. He was the Antiochus IV of his day and time.

So, in calling believers to be steadfast in following Christ, the epistle filled a genuine need, but for many early Christians, following Christ could be confusing.

Stories and legends, some probably developed with good intentions, others with less noble intentions, blurred the message of, and about, Jesus. This epistle insists that Christians listen to the true story of Christ as given them by the Apostles. The true story is the guide to salvation, and it is available. The Lord made it available by teaching and commissioning the Apostles.

The Gospel of Matthew’s revelation of the Transfiguration supplies the third reading. Often, Jesus faced demands for a sign from God that the lord was the Messiah. Skeptics inevitably raised these demands.

Jesus was not silent: This section of Matthew is filled with responses to these demands. Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. He walked on water. He healed the sick. He foretold the future.  He forgave sinners, an action only available to God, since sin offended God in the last analysis.

Finally, dramatically, Jesus stood before Peter, James and John in the full radiance of divinity. He was God. He was the promised Messiah.

The Transfiguration profoundly placed before human vision Jesus, God as well as human.

Reflection

Throughout the history of God’s interaction with the Hebrew people, a variety of physical conditions indicated the divine presence – searing light, clouds from which God spoke, the devotion of the prophets, and again and again the people tried to climb as high as they could on mountains to be nearer to God.

All these conditions come together in the Transfiguration as Jesus appeared in resplendent, dazzling divine glory before these three Apostles. Peter, James and John saw Jesus as God, and none other could duplicate the scene.

The lesson was clear. Jesus was everything. Everything in life fell before the Lord — the law of gravity, human illness, everything.

For Christians through the long centuries, this story of the Transfiguration has been ultimate proof that for them, as for these Apostles, Jesus is everything, and none is his equal. None equals the Lord in divine power. None equals Jesus in mercy and love, in perfection and in goodness.

Yes! He is the savior.

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