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THE TRANSFIGURATION AND OUR TRANSFORMATION IN CHRIST
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, Second Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2018
Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18, Psalm 115, Romans 8:31-34, Mark 9:2-10


Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them" (Mark 9:2-3).


Today Jesus is transfigured in glory before three of his disciples. This is a foretaste of his Resurrection and a revelation of his true essence as the glorious Son of God. We read this gospel account every year on the Second Sunday of Lent, the season devoted to celebrating the Paschal Mystery, which is Christ's atoning death and Resurrection for our salvation.


The transfiguration, as a foretaste of the Resurrection of Christ, is a foretaste of the completion of the Paschal Mystery, which is the central theme of Lent. So our first and second reading today focus on the Paschal Mystery, Christ's atoning death and Resurrection for our salvation.


As Abraham, in our first reading, was ready to sacrifice his only son, so God the Father actually did sacrifice his only Son for our justification and salvation. God "gave him up for us all," as St. Paul says today (Romans 8:31). God gave him up to atone for our sins by dying for them. "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). He died vicariously, that is, for us, for our sins, in punishment for them so that we wouldn't have to die in punishment for them.


Christ took our place and suffered our punishment for our sins for us instead of us suffering it for our sins. That is why he died on the cross. He "died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). This was God's plan for our salvation. This is how he intercedes with the Father for us. So who is there to condemn us? "Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?" as St. Paul says today (Romans 8:34). Jesus intercedes for us with the Father at the Father's initiative, since it is the Father who sent him to do this for us, for the Father "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all," as St. Paul says today (Romans 8:32).


God in his justice takes our sins upon himself in the person of the Son and serves our death sentence for them for us in order that if we put our faith in him (Christ), we will be justly acquitted and declared righteous by God. This is Christ's way of interceding for us with the Father. And Christ now lives forever. "Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25).


Christ's intercession is his shedding his blood for us on the cross. He takes the rap for our sins for us by suffering their penalty for us on the cross. This is God's plan for our justification and salvation. Christ in his Paschal Mystery (his death and Resurrection) fulfills all the Old Testament sacrifices for sins, which only symbolize what his sacrifice of himself actually does, namely it atones for our sins.


This is Christ's great saving and justifying act of intercession for us before the Father. Because of his death, Christ appears before God in heaven on our behalf as our intercessor. "For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Hebrews 9:24). "On our behalf" means that he is interceding for us. His appearing before God on our behalf with the blood of his sacrifice that atones for our sins is his great act of intercession for us.


"He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26). "He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12).


This is how Christ intercedes for us. He does it by his death for our sins on the cross, because his death serves and suffers our death sentence for our sins for us, thereby clearing us before God by paying the debt of punishment for our sins that we owed him. This is his intercession for us before God, and it is done at the Father's initiative, for it is the Father who sent him into the world to do this for us. This is the Father's plan of salvation.


But the actual living out of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary will be a great shock to his disciples, even though he often predicted it. Today's transfiguration experience would be remembered by his disciples and would strengthen them to endure his crucifixion, for in his transfiguration he gave them a powerful and memorable experiential glimpse of his divinity as the Son of God. They saw the glory of God in his transfigured face, and they heard the voice of the Father coming out of the cloud that overshadowed them, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him" (Mark 9:7).


Jesus' transfiguration can also be seen as an illustration of what can sometimes happen to us in contemplative prayer. It happened physically to Jesus, but it can happen spiritually - not physically - to us, when we contemplate his glory and find that we are transfigured in his image, as St. Paul says, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed (metamorphoumetha) into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).


We note that St. Paul uses the same Greek word (metamorphoo, to transfigure or to transform) here as do Matthew and Mark in their transfiguration account. St. Paul uses this word to describe our transformation or transfiguration into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another. By contemplating Christ's glory we ourselves are transfigured (metamorphoumetha) into his likeness. So this account of Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain plus what St. Paul says here about our own transfiguration can be an encouragement to us to sit in silent contemplation. Contemplation leads to our own transformation or transfiguration in Christ. It leads to our being transformed into his image from glory to glory, that is "from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18).


St. Paul then goes on to say that God shines his light in our hearts to give us an experience of the light of the knowledge and of the glory of God that shines on the face of Christ. "For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).


God wants us too to have a spiritual experience of the miracle of the transfiguration that the apostles physically experienced. To have this experience, when God wants to give it to us, we need to have faith and practice sitting in silent contemplation.


Those who are perishing do not experience this glory of contemplation, because they are blinded by their worldly thoughts and desires and by the devil, who is the god of this world. "In their [unbelievers'] case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4).


Finally, the transfiguration also gives us a glimpse of our own future, because we will one day be like Christ in his glory:


"Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3). "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:4). "But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:20-21).


Since this is our future destiny - if we remain his faithful followers - we should purify ourselves as he is pure (1 John 3:3), that is, we should try to live a holy life.


To live a holy life you should do as St. Paul tells us, namely you should "not be conformed to this world but be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2). Here again the same Greek word for transform or transfigure is used in this verse of St. Paul.


We should be transfigured by the renewal of our mind and actually do the will of God. We should form our conscience according to his revealed moral law and live accordingly, genuinely repenting of and renouncing our sins. Only in this way will we be ready to meet our Lord and be like him when he appears.


We should not deceive ourselves by trying to rationalize our sins away. We should not try to convince ourselves that due to the mitigating circumstances of our life, God will not hold us guilty or responsible for our sins, and so feeling safe by this rationalization continue in our sins making no effort to genuinely repent and renounce them. Rather, we should genuinely repent of, confess, and abandon our sins and be renewed in our mind and way of life, and purify ourselves as he is pure, for then we shall be like him when he appears.

 

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