Feast of the Lord's Transfiguration
August 6, 2008

Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-`4; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Matthew 17:1-9

This is the age of “extreme makeovers,” “dramatic transformations,” and super-heroesque, surgical military interventions via so-called “smart” and “precision” bombs. Everywhere we go, the cult of “Superman” (or its equivalent in Philippine local setting, Captain Barbell, and the like) is pretty much in place. We adore rapid and dramatic changes and transformations in every aspect of our earthly lives. Plastic surgeons simply have their hands full all over the world trying to save literal and figurative “damsels in distress,” rendered unhappy by a less than ideal face, or figure, or bodily form.

We want transformation. We clamor for change. We demand newness and freshness, not only in the produce we buy daily in our traditional “wet markets” or the spick-and-span “hypermarkets,” but also in our governments, in our society, in our nation, and in all our leaders. We want change, and we want it quick. We want it now, not sooner or later. In the Philippines, we have even gotten a little too much used to effecting change via extra-constitutional means. We want to make “people power” at the slightest whim and fancy … when we feel our leaders and traditional politicians are not morphing fast enough into becoming the “Supermen” we thought we have elected to office.

Today, I have some good news for you … no … not mine, but the Lord’s! He shows us a way towards morphing into, and towards, what He has originally created us for. And He does not speak of extreme makeovers. Neither does He speak about being super heroes running and flying around donned “in a silly red sheet,” as the singing group Five for Fighting croons.

What is definite in this good news is that God does want us to be transformed. He wants us, pardon the term (more used in botany than in theology), to “metamorphose.” And today, Christ gives us a glimpse of what we all, are really called to by God – in and through His transfiguration. “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.”

Simply put, we are called to be transfigured, too, like Christ.

This is the Good News. The bad news, however, is that many of us seem to have misappropriated, or at least misunderstood what this divine calling is all about. Let us look at some of them …

First, there are those of us who think that change only depended on them. Some even think that violence can clinch it for all time. Armed rebels, coup plotters, terrorists, and their ilk, seem to act like they have marching orders from heaven to “change the face of the earth.” They want change and they want it fast … by hook or by crook.

Second, there are those of us who think they have the only valid and true blueprint for change. They act like they got everything figured out. They behave like they have what it takes. These are the “supermen” or the “Captain Marvels” of our time who seem to have all the answers to every problem, who think that other people are always the problem, but never themselves. In the Philippine political system (run like hell by Filipinos, by the way, as Quezon predicted), we got a whole bunch of them, both in the ranks of the abusive administration, and the acrimonious, endlessly sour-graping opposition.

Third, there are still others whose idea of change simply means to wait for “heavenly signs” and celestial, galactic interventions from above. Such people spiritualize everything. They dump the whole problem into the hands of God, and wait endlessly for “divine intervention” and “miracles” from the Lord whom they expect to put to rout all evildoers, and set aright everything wrong in the world. Such people wait for the equivalent of “Superman,” who will single-handedly restore justice and right in all the world.

The Lord’s Transfiguration has nothing to do with all three mistaken notions we have mentioned above. The Lord’s transfiguration is a glimpse in time of what God eternally is, - a glorious God, a God of majesty, a God who is Lord and King of all creation, a God who – precisely because He is glorious and eternal – is also Lord of history. Here, we speak not of an empty, shallow, and triumphalistic metamorphosis, like as if God needed to boast of His power, glory, and majesty. As God, He has no need for such mundane manifestations. He has no need to assert His innate glory. With or without us clapping our hands in awe, God would still be God, and there is nothing we can do to detract, add, or subtract from that intrinsic glory of God.

But there were three disciples who, like all of us, needed to see a glimpse of that divine glory and majesty. God didn’t need any transformation, but men and women like us do. The three disciples were called and invited to witness such a divine manifestation. And such a transfiguration had nothing to do with merely shallow and inane extreme physical makeovers, but a deep and profound transformation that starts from within and extends without. The three disciples, witnesses to such an epiphany, stand for us who, like them, are now called to be exactly the same witnesses, not only of God’s glory, but also of God’s saving mercy on His people.

The three readings of today speak of no “Superman” or “Rambo-esque” superhero who comes accompanied by artificial claps of thunder and peals of lightning. The vision of Daniel, it must be remembered, took place at a time of great suffering for God’s people who were threatened, persecuted, and made to suffer by the ambitious Antiochus Epiphanes, who wanted to impose his earthly glory and power over everyone in the known world at that time. Behind and beyond all that pain, Daniel saw a vision of what the real God is like. And he stands witness to such a conviction in faith and hope, and speaks of his vision of one who was literally a “son of weak man” who is coming down with clouds to rule over an earthly kingdom come down upon this world of pain and problems from the heavens.

The transfiguration, then, is not primarily about God and his giving us a glimpse of his glory, but about us women and men, who are now witnesses of that same glory. In Peter’s terms, we are now holders of this “prophetic message” which is “altogether reliable.” But as holders, we are not just “keepers.” We are, in the words of James, not only “keepers and hearers of the word, but doers of the word” (Jas 1:22). We are now those who stand in need of transfiguration, of transformation, of change that ought to start the transformation of society and the world.

The three disciples definitely were changed interiorly by a vision of the Lord’s own transfiguration. They were so taken up by that interior transformation that they wanted to build three tents right then, right there. They felt like Supermen freshly and newly empowered by the Golden Sun experience of a heavenly vision. But they were not called to be just keepers of a vision. They went right back down the mountain of meeting, back to the plains of mission, back to the arena where transformation had to take place, in a world that was waiting for leavens and salt that would gradually effect personal and social transformation. That transformation does not happen through extreme makeovers and triumphalistic means. That transformation ordinarily does not take place in leaps and bounds. Morphing into becoming a Kryptonite-immuned “superman” might sound good to impatient people like us longing for change, but today’s good news invites us to morph beyond superman, and, as we “listen to the voice of [God’s] Son,” we ask him to “help us become heirs to eternal life with him who lives and reigns forever and ever.” (Opening Prayer)