By Mother Miriam, CSM
The use of the Transfiguration Gospel for the Last Sunday of Epiphany is a stroke of genius. It focuses our attention upon the midway point in the life and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ as part of our preparation for Lent. Lent gives us an annual opportunity to take stock and refocus our journey toward union with God. Seeing Jesus in the Transfiguration story is a beautiful image for our mind’s eye, as the beauty of holiness is a wonderful motivation for our personal growth in holiness.
Jesus’ sense of mission was unique in his all-consuming desire to do the will of the Father. It is different from ours in both tenacity and singlemindedness. At the moment of the Transfiguration the Godhead of the Son shone forth, and those who were later to receive the experience of God with them in resurrected life were prepared by the sight of his glory shining through an earthly form.
We can thank St. Luke for telling us how this happened. “As he was praying, the fashion of his countenance was altered” (Luke 9:29, KJV). In prayer, union with God burst through the body of Jesus in such intensity as to become perceptible, even through his garments. I wonder — if Jesus had not voluntarily surrendered to the change which was being wrought in him, might not the moment of Transfiguration have become the moment of his ascension? But isn’t that what Satan was tempting him to do in the third temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:8-11)?
You might ponder the connections between this glorious moment in the Transfiguration story — Jesus in prayer, the majestic mountain view, and the mystery of his fulfilled mission on earth — and the previous purpose of the Holy Spirit’s driving him into the wilderness for 40 days of preparation for his ministry. The temptation of vainglory was the same; the resistance was also the same. What made the resistance possible? I would suggest that we are seeing here the power of absolute love between the Father and the Son that should be our model. Jesus so loved his Father that he wanted to be sure every step of the way that he was doing only and exactly what the Father wanted him to do.
He called the 12 disciples to teach them the true calling of the chosen people of God. He formed community around himself to show them true prayer and right relationship with God. In four very different ways the gospels tell that story to build the faith of the Church for all time.
I am continually intrigued with the links between the Old and New Testaments, especially the beginning chapters of Genesis in its description of the relation between God and humankind and Paul’s naming of Jesus Christ as the Last Adam. The idea of our being made in the image of God is both fascinating and a high standard of being. From the word image we derive the word imagination. Imagination is not fantasy. It is reaching and stretching beyond ourselves to be open to inspiration and intuition and the still, small voice of God.
The American Jesuit William F. Lynch spent a lifetime exploring the process of human imagination assisting the development of faith. His work extrapolates the definition of faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval” (Heb. 11:1-2). He states his thesis in Images of Faithi n this way: “Faith is a life of the imagination; it is particularly a life of the ironic imagination” ([University of Notre Dame Press, 1973], p. viii).
Lynch challenges his reader to see the ironic value reversals of Christ as the opening to greater life in the fulfillment of the New Covenant of God. Such sayings of Jesus as “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” make his point. The irony of accepting death for the sake of Christ is the ultimate hallmark of Christian discipleship. Is not this what Elijah and Moses were discussing with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:30-31)?
I made the point in my previous article for Covenant: “Imagination illustrates, but it does not directly create. Only when the will is engaged, does creation take place.” William Lynch challenges us to go one more step in the logic of faith and imagination. “It is ironical that the glorious general archetype of Salvation (such as the Orphic passage from evil and darkness to purification and light) inclines to miss the point of the depth of Salvation.” His definition of the depth of salvation is the seeming paradox of God the Father having only one Son, yet by union with Christ in a death like his, we are, as St. Paul understands it, adopted sons (Eph. 1:5-7). “An original curse [the expulsion from Eden] is transformed into Sonship.”
Hosea foresees the fulfilment of God’s Covenant for those who will hear the new dispensation of his call to discipleship. “The number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (Hos. 1:10).
It is a pity to lose the beauty of this kind of faith with all our confusions and arguments about sexuality issues. I pray that our Last Sunday in Epiphany may be a glorious celebration of witnessing Christ’s transfiguration and setting of his face to Jerusalem.