The Theophany of the Son of Man on Tabor.

The top of Mt. Tabor, where the Transfiguration took place. 

Sunday's Scripture centred around the story of the Transfiguration. You can hear Fr. Kevin Hale's homily here. In it, he talks about how this event prepares us to face the trauma of Holy Week. The Cross always comes before the glory.

I have stood on top of Mt. Tabor with Father Kevin. You have to remember the title of my blog - De Omnibus Dubitandem Est...And approaching this site I thought I could never believe that it was anything more than one of a number of possible sites where something extraordinary was supposed to have happened a long, long while ago. On arrival at the top and in some degree of wonder, I found my scepticism left me and I felt full of faith and the Spirit, excited to be here, where Biblical events took place. I was so inspired that I began to talk effusively to my fellow pilgrims, of Moses and Elijah and the theology of what happened in that place. The literal story as recounted in Scripture, as we heard at Mass on Sunday, but also what those things meant. What they meant for the Apostles and what they mean for us now.

The Transfiguration resonates on three levels:
  1. Christ reveals His glory to offset the shock of His first Passion prediction which is at Mt 16:21-23; Mk 8: 31; Lk 9:22. As you can see, this is true in all three Synoptic accounts and the position is meaningful; the Transfiguration gives the predictions of the Passion a necessary clarification. It should be noted that it is a constant theme of the Synoptic Gospels that this clarification was not understood by the Disciples before the Resurrection. The change described in the appearance of Jesus suggests the change which is implied in the Resurrection narratives and which made it difficult for the Disciples to recognise Him.
  2. The Father's voice, the chosen Son, and the cloud of the Spirit manifest the presence of the Blessed Trinity. Light and glory in the Old Testament are elements of theophany—that is, the sensible presence of the LORD.
  3. The prophets Moses and Elijah testify that Jesus will fulfil the Law and the prophets of the Old Testament.This episode parallels YHWH's manifestation to Moses on Mt. Sinai (CCC 554-56, 697). The Cloud is also a symbol of theophany in the Old Testament.
The Transfiguration is a statement that the Son of Man even in His earthly existence is the glorious Son of Man who is recognised in His glory after His Passion and Resurrection. The theology of the Transfiguration is entirely one with the theology of Phil 2:6-11, where Paul probes the significance of Jesus' emptying of Himself, the meaning of God's taking to Himself the Human condition.

Mt Tabor & environs.
Mount Tabor is the traditional location for the Transfiguration. The earliest identification of the Mount of Transfiguration as Tabor is by Origen in the 3rd century. It is also mentioned by St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Jerome in the 4th century.The Church of the Transfiguration is located atop Mount Tabor. It is later mentioned in the 5th century Transitus Beatae Mariae Virginis

It seems likely that the Apostles told others which mountain it was that the Transfiguration occurred on and thus this became part of the oral Tradition of the Apostles. 

I remember studying the Scriptural accounts and what stood out about this event was its irrelevance. It has no parallel in either the Old Testament or the New. It is not a doublet of the Baptism of Jesus either. 

The story seems so unbelievable, one is left wondering why did the Evangelists tell it—unless it is true? The incredible story is replete with images of brightness—light and glory—and yet is connected with the heart of Jesus' mission, with his life-saving death and Resurrection. Jesus has come to enter and transform our human condition so we can be like He is. St. Athanasius calls this the promise of divinisation. St. Paul tells us that we are waiting for Him who will transfigure our lowly bodies into copies of His own glorious body—what an incredible promise, full of expectation and joy.

The Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor 
One interesting dimension to the story is that Jesus is found alone after the wonderful sight had suddenly gone. The words are stark and lonely: the basic ordinary human situation prevails once more. The Disciples might well have wondered whether it all really happened at all. 

This really strikes me, because my experiences of God are like that. They have been unequivocal theophany, but even that intense personal revelation fades and is rationalised by the mind very swiftly.The Disciples say nothing about what happened until after Jesus' Resurrection from the dead.

The other Gospel accounts explain that Jesus warned them about His approaching Passion. For the Disciples it must have all been so confusing. What did Jesus' words mean? How could they comprehend the mystery of the Passion?

The reality of this experience of confusion speaks to our human condition, to our own position where faith sometimes seems difficult, even lost, in the face of the apparent futility of the created order. God seems indifferent, remote, dead. The example were are given on Sunday- the context if you like, is of Abram, our great father in faith. It is to him and his example that we are always directed. God called him and promised him great things. He left his home to follow the LORD and undertook to believe, in spite of his age. God made His pact, or covenant of love, with him in a scene that reminds us of the Transfiguration in its divine initiative, power, and mystery. The covenant established with Abram was the beginning of God's plan of salvation that reaches its high point in the coming of His Son, the Suffering Servant.

In Sunday's first reading, we hear how Abraham, in obedience to God, is prepared to sacrifice his only son to him: at the last minute, an angel of the Lord stays his hand and, having sacrificed a ram instead, Abraham is told of the reward for his faithfulness: his descendants will be multiplied, and by his offspring shall all the nations on the earth bless themselves (cf. Gen 22: 18).

This sacrifice of an only son reminds us in the figure of Isaac carrying the wood for his own sacrifice (cf. Gen 22: 6) of the figure of Jesus carrying His cross to Calvary. That sacrifice, of course, was not stopped or swapped at the last minute; only after the last minute, on the third day, did it become clear that this was not a pointless and incomprehensible death (as Isaac’s, too, looked like it was going to be) but the glorification of Jesus – that descendant of Abraham in whom all the nations bless themselves (cf. Gal 3: 16).
Mum & I on Mt. Tabor
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac points to the fact that it is important how Jesus came to his risen glory. He came to it from what appeared to be a pointless and incomprehensible path to death, a path which we commemorate in this season. The very fact that such hopelessness and despair can become in God a sign of hope – a sign that God, as He did for Abraham and as He did most of all in Christ, can transform and give meaning to our lives even when they may seem pointless or consist in incomprehensible suffering: Jesus, whom God did not spare but gave up for us all (cf. Rm 8: 32), has shared in our humanity, shared in our suffering, shared even in our death, so that in those times of trial we too can hope to share in the glory He revealed to his disciples in his Transfiguration.


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