domenica 6 agosto 2017

«Et vidimus gloriam eius» ... «et hanc vocem nos audivimus»

Today is the 6th of August, the day on which the Church remembers the transfiguration of Jesus. Since it is a feast of the Lord, according to the liturgical norms, it is more important than a Sunday in Ordinary Time. So, today, instead of celebrating the usual Sunday liturgy, we celebrate the liturgy of the transfiguration of the Lord.

Admittedly, we commemorate this event every year on the second Sunday of Lent. On that occasion, we consider the transfiguration like a kind of foretaste, at the beginning of Lent, of Christ’s resurrection. Actually, after predicting for the first time his passion, Jesus, by showing his glory to his disciples, wants to prepare them to face that trial. But maybe there are also other meanings in this event, that during Lent could escape our notice. So, we have today the opportunity to consider this mystery regardless of its undeniable reference to the passion and resurrection of Christ.

If we take the gospel and go to read the last verse before today’s passage, we find Jesus making the following statement: “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mt 16:28). The transfiguration takes place six days after this prediction. Well, according to some Fathers of the Church, the transfiguration would be the fulfillment of that prediction; it would be the taking possession of the kingdom on the part of Jesus. And some of those standing there—i.e. Peter, James and John—were present. We find a confirmation to this interpretation in the second reading. Let us make a digression. The transfiguration is narrated not only by the three synoptic gospels; there is a reference to it even in the second letter of Peter, who had been an eyewitness to the event. It is interesting to notice that Peter does not mention other events (e.g. the resurrection); he refers only to the transfiguration. It means that it was a very important event in the life of Jesus and in his personal experience. Well, Peter says in his letter: “He—Jesus—received honor and glory from God the Father.” You see? The transfiguration was a glorification; we could say, it was a kind of enthronement, as if at that moment his kingdom were inaugurated. So, the apostles on Mount Tabor “see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

But, at the same time, the transfiguration is a prophecy of Christ’s second coming—the so-called parousia. Even this aspect is present in the second reading. You have heard what Peter says at the beginning of today’s selection: “We made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Where we read the word “coming,” in the original Greek text we exactly find the term parousia. So, Peter is speaking of the final coming of Jesus in his glory, and makes reference to the transfiguration. Evidently, for him the transfiguration is somehow a foretaste of the parousia. At the end of the age Christ, as we say in the Creed, “will come again in glory—with the glory he received on the day of his transfiguration—to judge the living and the dead.”

But there is another aspect that strikes us in the second reading. The three apostles were “eyewitnesses (literally, “spectators”) of his majesty.” In Matthew’s gospel, their experience is considered a “vision” (v. 9). John, who was one of the three eyewitnesses, says at the beginning of his gospel, “And we saw his glory (et vidimus gloriam eius), the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). And yet Peter, in his letter, does not linger on what they saw, but on what they heard: “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And straight after, he adds: “We ourselves heard this voice (et hanc vocem nos audivimus) come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” Why such a stress on hearing, rather than on seeing? Maybe, if he had said, like John, “We saw,” someone could have dismissed them, saying that they had hallucinations. It is more difficult to be mistaken in hearing: “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven.” And we have to be grateful to them for their witness. Our faith is based not on “cleverly devised myths,” but on the testimony of those who saw with their eyes and heard with their ears. The gospel is not a fable, but a report of historical events. It is thanks to the apostles that we know and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, his beloved.