The Feast of Transfiguration. August 6, 2017 [Matthew 17:1-9]
“He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light (Mat 17:2).”
This Sunday, the Church is celebrating the feast of Transfiguration. The word ‘transfiguration’ comes from Matthew who writes Jesus transfigures before the three disciples, Peter, James and John, his face shines like the sun and his clothes become white as light (17:2). The word “transfigure” is the direct transliteration of the Latin Vulgate Bible “transfigurare”. It is a combination of two words “trans” meaning to across, and “figura” meaning figure. Thus, transfiguration literally means the change of figure. It is a fitting word to describe what happens to Jesus.
However, if we look at the original Greek, Matthew used the word “metamorphos” which is actually the root of the English word metamorphosis. Many of us understand metamorphosis as a biological term. It is a marked and more or less abrupt developmental change in the form or structure of an animal. The classical examples are the transformation from a leaf-eating caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, or an aquatic tadpole into a land-dwelling frog. Metamorphosis is surely a radical change, but we do not use this term to describe what happens to Jesus in Mount Tabor perhaps because we do not want to limit Jesus’ transformation to the biological sphere only. It is something more fundamental, spiritual and even divine.
In our time, the medical technologies have advanced considerably, and this enables us also to undergo a metamorphosis. We can look young despite our age. We can reduce our excess fat in no time. We can make even our face bright and vibrant, even ‘shining like the sun’. I have to admit that often I do not pay much attention to my physical and facial improvement, but I believe that our efforts to care for our bodies and improve our beauty are part of appreciating God’s creations. The problem sets in when we become excessive and even obsessive. Spending huge amount of money just for beauty products and cosmetic surgery while our neighbors are dying of hunger is simply unchristian. Spending our fortune for the companies that cause environmental damages or sufferings to people is also our participation in this injustice.
However, we are called not simply to metamorphosize but to transfigure. While the change and improvement in our body can be good and beautiful, transfiguration is not only a matter of physical alteration. We need to change in a more fundamental, spiritual and even divine way. It is a change that pleases the Father because we become like Jesus, we become His sons and daughters. Through the sacrament of baptism, we have been made God’s children, and now it is our mission to act and behave like His worthy children. Like Jesus, we need to be more aware of the sufferings around us and be compassionate to our poor brothers and sisters. Like Jesus, we fight against the injustices and abuses that take place around us. Like Jesus, we instruct and educate our family, friends and neighbors in truth.
Finally, Matthew places the event of the Transfiguration just before Jesus goes to Jerusalem as He offers His life for our salvation. The true transfiguration enables us to become less and less self-centered and empowers us to do sacrifices for our loves ones. We are called to make the world a better place for us and all children of God. Like Jesus, we are called to be transfigured and be pleasing to the Father.
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP