Gospel of Sunday, 5 March: Matthew 17, 1-13
Gospel of Sunday, II Sunday of Lent: Matthew 17, 1-13, The Transfiguration of Jesus
17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.
7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”
8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.
12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”
13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).
Today I share with you a brief meditation on the Gospel, with particular reference to the theme of mercy.
This episode in the life of Jesus should also be analysed in the light of the parallel passages in the other Gospels (Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36).
MATTHEW 17, 1-13: A POST-EASTER EXPERIENCE?
“It was only in the light of the resurrection that the disciples fully understood, for the first time, who Jesus was and the meaning of his tragic death… The account of the transfiguration, originating from this Easter faith, intends to anticipate in the Gospel storyline the meaning of the Easter event (2 Pet 1:16-18; Jn 12:27-28)” (G. Barbaglio).
In the midst of the conflicts with the Pharisees and Herodians (Mk 8:11-21), Jesus leaves Galilee and goes to the region of Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8:27), where he begins to prepare the disciples for his passion and death (Mk 8:31). The event of the transfiguration is an event prophesied by Jesus (Mt 16:28).
The account of the Transfiguration is historical, but told as a midrash, a sapiential reflection. There are three cultural backgrounds to it:
- The Sinaitic theophany (Ex 24:15-17; 34:29-35).
- Daniel’s apocalyptic vision (Dan 10:4-21).
- The Feast of Tents: It was the feast of Sukkot, when Jews are still invited for a week to live in tents, in huts, to remember the wonderful moment of God’s betrothal to Israel, the time of the Exodus, when the people were nomads of the desert. During the first six days of the festival, the Qohelet, the book that says: “All is vanity!” is read. (Qo 1:2): Jesus in the previous verses (Mt 16:24-28) invited us to deny ourselves. In the liturgy we read Deut 33 and 34: “In Israel there was no longer a prophet like Moses: the Lord had manifested himself to him face to face” (Deut 34:10). During the Feast of Tabernacles, the chatan Torah, “the bridegroom of the Torah”, the prior of the feast, is appointed. Jesus would many times say of himself that he was the expected messianic bridegroom (Mt 9:15; 25:1-13; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 19:7-8; 21:2). The feast ended in the synagogue with a prayer for the coming of the Messiah.
v. 1: – The “six days”: a) evoke the Sinaitic theophany (Ex 24:16); b) the Feast of Tabernacles began six days after Kippur.
– Jesus takes only three disciples with him: Moses also goes up the mountain taking Aaron and his two sons, Nadab and Abiu with him (Ex 24:1).
– A high mountain: there is an echo of all the tales of theophany, of revelation of God in the Old Testament: the mountain of Sinai (or Horeb: Ex 3:1), ascended and descended by Moses (Ex 19-34) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-18).
v. 2: Jesus “was transformed” (metemorphote), underwent a metamorphosis, or rather “was transformed” by God (divine passive). Light is the cloak with which God is clothed (Ps 104:2); the source of this light is Jesus himself (Mk and Mt), his face shone like the sun (Mt) and the appearance of his face became other (Lk) (cf. Ex 34:29-35; 2 Cor 3:7).
v. 3: – And behold (Hebrew: we-hinné): an expression typical of biblical narrative to indicate a sudden change.
– Next to Jesus we see two other figures: Matthew establishes a priority of Moses over Elijah, representing respectively the Law and the Prophets, i.e. the entire Old Testament. Moses had wanted to see the Glory of God (Ex 33:18), and now he finally contemplates it in Jesus (Heb 1:3; 1 Cor 2:8; 2 Cor 4:6). Elijah had also ascended the mountain of God for a revelation in the “voice of a subtle silence” (1 Kings 19:12), and was expected at the end of time (Ml 3:23).
v. 5: – In the Bible, the mystery of the “cloud” is often spoken of, to indicate the Presence of God, which, however, is manifested in a veiled manner (Ex 20:18; Ex 13:21-22; 14:19.24; 19:16; 24:15-18; Ex 33:9-10; Ez 10:3-22; Lk 1:35; Mt 17:1-8; 2 Pet 1:16-19…).
– Concentration of messianic reflection: “This is my Son”: the Messiah (Ps 2:7), “the beloved (agapetòs)”, the new Isaac (Gen 22:2), “in whom I am well pleased” the Servant of the Lord (Is 42:1), “Listen to him”, the prophet, the new Moses (Dt 18:15).
v. 7: Pattern of revelation: apparition, fear, “Fear not!”, order to keep the secret.
v. 8: – Jesus is again contemplated “alone” in the humble everydayness of human nature.
– “Now Jesus alone is the lawgiver and prophet willed by the Father” (O. Da Spinetoli).
– “The disciples after the revelation saw only Jesus, they saw a man” (E. Bianchi).
v. 10-13: Elijah must come “first” (Ml 3:23-24): but before whom, or before what? Matthew expressly identifies Elijah with the Baptist (Mt 11:14).
Matthew 17, 1-13, EXEGESIS
1 Meditation on Scripture reveals Christ to us
What probably happened? That Jesus took a day of retreat with his closest friends, went up the mountain and started reading the Bible, namely Moses and Elijah.
We don’t want to deny God the possibility of transfiguration, but it is much closer to us to think that when we manage to find half a day to retreat to a mountain to read the Scripture, in those moments we too talk to Moses and Elijah, in those moments God speaks to us and transfigures us.
“It is a matter of disposing ourselves to listen attentively and prayerfully to Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, seeking moments of prayer that allow the docile and joyful acceptance of the Word of God… And when we put ourselves like this, with the Bible in our hands, in silence, we begin to feel this inner beauty, this joy that generates the Word of God in us” (Pope Francis).
2 The Christophany
At the Transfiguration we have a true Christophany, or rather a theophany like those recounted in the Old Testament, from which Moses (cf. Ex 3:1-15; 34:5-28), Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-18) and the other prophets (Is 6; Ez 1) benefited.
“The Christian community has the highest guarantees of its preaching: the law, the prophets and the Father himself” (O. Da Spinetoli).
3 The beauty of God
In the liturgical context, celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, the disciples understand that Jesus is the Messiah announced by the whole of Scripture, that Jesus is the chatan Torah, the bridegroom, the hermeneutic, the one who explains the whole Torah.
The last times have come, the prayer for the Messiah has been fulfilled, the Messiah is here among them and will establish the Kingdom.
The Fathers will say: ‘God placed Adam in paradise, that is in Christ’. Paradise is Christ, Jesus is our paradise.
What was the cornerstone of the Jewish faith, the “Shemà, Israel”, the “Listen, Israel” (Dt 6:3-4; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9) becomes obedience to the Word of Jesus: the Father says: “This is my beloved son: listen to him!” (Mt 17:5).
4 The temptation to reject the Cross
“The resurrection is the fundamental message of the Gospel but it cannot be separated from the passion… The three curtains reveal the sense that Peter had given to the scene by immediately settling on the laurels of an undeserved victory.
In this case too Peter represents the voice of flesh and blood (Mt 16:17), the one who thinks not according to God but in the way of men (Mt 16:23)… It is the attempt to accommodate God’s plan to the liking and ‘wisdom’ of man” (O. Da Spinetoli).
5 Seeing God in the face of the brothers
After the Transfiguration, the disciples see “Jesus alone”.
They only contemplate his humanity, his presence among men, his Incarnation.
“The disciples are thus invited on a journey that is well summed up in a saying of Jesus reported by Clement of Alexandria: “Have you seen your brother, a man? You have seen God’. This is the mystery of the transfiguration” (E. Bianchi).
6 Transfigure us and transfigure the world
Transfiguration is a mystery of transformation: our body and this creation are called to transfiguration, to become “other” (Phil 3:21; Rom 8:22; Rev 21:1).
“To celebrate the Eucharist is to live in anticipation the transfiguration in communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters… In this way the Eucharist becomes a project of transformation that must engage us in our history…: we have the task of transfiguring what we live and do” (Fr Farinella).
Good Mercy to all!
Those who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at email@example.com.
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