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There is only one path to the center
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. The key to understanding the meaning of this unique episode in Jesus’ earthly ministry is Peter’s odd reaction to it.
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“Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
To which Luke adds:
“(He did not know what he was saying.)”
What was Peter’s mistake?
He mistook his Master for an equal to Moses and Elijah.
Peter certainly meant no disrespect. Until the coming of John the Baptist, Moses and Elijah were the two greatest men of the Catholic faith.Peter sought to honor Jesus.
But Peter is immediately corrected, by no less an authority than God Himself. God says:
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
After that, Peter, James, and John, find Jesus alone.
The point is that Jesus indeed stands alone. He is in a category by Himself.
A similar point is made in the reading from Exodus.
After speaking with God, the face of Moses shines, such that Aaron and the Israelites are afraid to come near him. Like Jesus standing alone, Moses stands apart.
Despite their fear, Moses commands them to come near so that he may teach them “all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.”
As the lawgiver, Moses stands apart. The people fear him and their obedience must be commanded.
The point is that holiness must be guarded and kept. Their fear was a sign of at least a modicum of self-awareness on the part of the Israelites. They were not permitted to speak with God face to face the way Moses was. Consequently, they had no share in the glory. It upset them so much that Moses had to hide his radiant face from them.
This led to a centuries-long dullness which set in along with a hardness of heart.
“But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.”
Remember, they had to be commanded to come and hear the law read the first time. There was no eagerness, no joy, no desire for the ways of God. There was only fear.
That same fear motivated Adam and Eve to hide from God in the garden after they ate the forbidden fruit.
It is true that men like David danced for joy before the LORD, and that is why Scripture tells us that David was a man after God’s own heart.Scripture also tells us that the promised Messiah would be descended from David.
Modesty is a component part of true religion. The veil of Moses was meant to hide the glory of God from a people who knew enough to know that they didn’t deserve to gaze upon it.
A certain modesty is fitting in God’s house: observing silence or speaking only in hushed tones, men taking their hats off, women putting their hats on, setting ourselves and our churches apart. Keeping a respectful distance, knowing that God stands alone as creator and ruler of the world.
But boldness in the household of God is fitting too. Paul writes:
“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”
What is our hope?
It is this: the glory we see in Jesus Christ is already ours and will increase.
“We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
We can be compelled, like the Israelites of old, to listen to God’s law, to hear His holy word, or we can approach the same boldly, with joy in our hearts, and with no reason to fear because God’s Spirit is in us, and the Spirit of God has no reason to fear God.
In the Transfiguration of Jesus we see the glory that Adam was meant to have, we acknowledge the loss of that glory, we stand at respectful distance from it, only to be told by God to come to Him with boldness, in the knowledge and hope that all is not lost, that in fact all — including our glory — will be restored.
I will conclude with two points of application.
The first is rooted in the uniqueness of Jesus and the apartness (or separation) that the holiness of God demands.
As good, cosmopolitan citizens of the world, we are tempted to make many pavilions for the assorted glories of the world, particularly their spiritual or cultural treasures, in a kind of spiritual worlds’ fair.
It is one thing to acknowledge their value and study their histories, but it is quite another to make them equal to Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.
When we do that, we are like Peter, “not knowing what he said.” As inspiring the glory of the world can be, it is only a reflected glory, and Christians have seen the original glory of God in Jesus Christ.
We cannot unsee it. We have heard the voice from the cloud and cannot unhear it. Jesus is the one we must listen to and no other. He is our only source of unity and truth.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that we must not put our trust in anyone else, and that there is no other basis for true and lasting community than a shared faith in Jesus Christ.
There are not many paths to the center. Jesus Christ is both the center and the pathway. This is what His transfiguration teaches us.
The second application is a word of comfort. Seeing Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus proves that no one who is in Christ is ever lost.
It also shows that time is a creature of God and obedient to God’s will. God is able to save and create without regard for the chronological order.
This is why the creation account in Genesis does not contradict “science” anymore than Moses and Elijah living centuries before Christ prevented them from knowing Him and being saved by Him.
As Paul wrote in last week’s lesson:
“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of many guarantees that what Paul says is true. Amen.
Preached on August 6, 2023 at St. Peter’s Lithgow, Millbrook, New York.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12 - 4:2; Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
Questions for reflection and discussion:
1. Describe Peter’s odd reaction to the Transfiguration.
2. Peter’s mistake was to presume ____________ among Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
3. This episode in Our Lord’s life shows that Jesus is in a ____________ by Himself.
4. After speaking with God, the face of Moses ____________.
5. As the lawgiver, Moses stands ____________. The people ____________ him and their obedience must be commanded.
6. Paul says that the minds of the Israelites were made ____________ and that a ____________ covers them when the law is read.
7. Explain why modesty is a component part of true religion.
8. Explain why boldness is a component part of being a follower of Christ.
9. What does the Transfiguration teach us about the validity of other religions?
10. As inspiring the glory of the world is, it is only a ____________ glory. Christians have seen the ____________ glory of God in Jesus Christ.
11. True and lasting community is based on a shared ____________ in Jesus Christ.
12. Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus proves that no one who is in Christ is ever ____________.
Parents and Grandparents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents or the minister after church. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times glory is mentioned. 2) Look up the word equality. Look up the work hierarchy. Discuss with your parents whether we live in a world of equality or a world of hierarchy.
(1) he wants to build three tents; (2) equality; (3) category; (4) shines; (5) apart/fear; (6) dull/veil; (7) because God stands alone and apart from His creatures; (8) because Christians see Christ’s glory, hope for a share in it, and are eager to come close to God; (9) other religions cannot be equated with the Catholic faith; (10) reflected/original; (11) faith; (12) lost
“Catholic” here refers to true faith in and the worship of God, often obscured in history and kept only by a remnant few, going back to Adam’s time, specifically to the time of the birth of his grandson by Seth, Enos, when “began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” See: Gen. 4:25-26.