18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection by Patrick Sinozich
“His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat.”
There's a lot of fire in the first reading today. An Ancient One sits on a throne of fire, with wheels of fire, streaming a surge of fire. Someone like a human being approaches on a cloud and is given power over everyone and everything. Later, in the second reading the disciples claim that they’re not following cleverly designed myths, yet the fiery language of this passage from Daniel certainly sounds mythic.
The book of Daniel belongs to a category of literature called apocalyptic. While apocalyptic literature might seem strange to us, the word apocalypse means unveiling or revelation. Apocalyptic literature typically proclaims a message of hope in coded language not understandable except by insiders and therefore unlikely to draw the ire of hostile authorities.
The fire of the first reading is reminiscent of the Burning Bush that spoke to Moses or of the fire called down by Elijah to consume a sacrifice and the prophets of Baal. In the Gospel scene of his Transfiguration, Jesus is joined by these same two ancient figures, Moses and Elijah. Their presence corresponds with the “Law and the Prophets” of the Old Testament, and the addition of a Jesus, whose face “shone like the sun” indicates that the Law and the Prophets were not enough. However, the disciples are charged not to speak of the vision until Jesus is raised from the dead. The Gospel reading is, at its core, a revealing to the disciples (and to the church at large) of Jesus’ identity as human and divine.
The location of the event, on a mountain top, is not by chance. High places suggest the meeting of earth and sky, the temporal and the eternal, humanity and God. Jesus is the connecting point, the bridge between the two, and the disciples share in this glimpse of Jesus’ ultimate glory. The presence of Peter, James, and John here parallels the presence of the same three disciples with Jesus at Gethsemane.
Upon reading this Gospel passage, I was at first struck thinking “didn’t we already hear this reading?” Yes! The recounting of the Transfiguration is heard on the second Sunday of Lent (which fell on March 12 this year). Its presence there offers the disciples a comforting proof of Jesus’ divinity and a prelude to the Resurrection, in view of the seeming contradiction of the Crucifixion.
The Transfiguration is one of the five major milestones in the Gospel narrative of the life of Jesus, the others being Baptism, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. In 2002, Pope John Paul II introduced to the rosary the Luminous Mysteries, which include the Transfiguration.
Christian theology assigns a great deal of significance to the Transfiguration, based on multiple elements of the narrative. In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We heard similar words at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). These words appear whenever we are granted an indication of Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God.
The glimpse of Jesus glorified and transfigured is a glimpse of our own future. The truth of our lives can only be understood in relation to the resurrection of Jesus, anticipated in his Transfiguration and revealed to the disciples. In this experience we behold, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord.