Sunday Scripture readings for August 6, 2023, Transfiguration of the Lord
Dn 7:9-10, 13-14 Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9 2 Pt 1:16-19 Mt 17:1-9
Put aside fear, embrace the power of the light that is Christ
What are we afraid of?
A lot of children will tell you (and some of their grownup friends will agree) that they are afraid of the dark. The unknown and unseeable can be frightening. There are the usual things to be afraid of, too — bugs, snakes, doctors’ offices, a visit to the dentist. Others will tell you they’re afraid of change, of disruption, of illness, of not knowing what is to come. A lot of people will tell you — my wife among them — they are terrified of heights.
Then we encounter this Sunday’s Gospel and find the apostles literally cowering in fear from something they don’t understand. It is Jesus transfigured, changed before their eyes. But more than that, they’re recoiling from something else: light.
This Sunday’s scripture is about many things — Christ’s divinity, God’s power, the apostles’ dread, the revelation of something mysterious and overwhelming, the Transfiguration of the Lord.
But it is also about something else: the insistent and persistent power of light — the light that is Christ.
We see that played out each year during the Easter Vigil, as a single flame spreads and illuminates an entire church.
We see it at every baptism, when the newly baptized is given a flickering candle and told, “Receive the light of Christ.”
And we see it in this Gospel, with a radiance of light that leaves the apostles stunned.
They hear the voice of God and fall to the ground in fear. But then they hear another voice, belonging to Jesus.
God told the apostles to listen to him. What are they listening for? What does Jesus say?
The first words he speaks in this passage are words that echo throughout the scriptures, part of his message to the world. They are words that allow us to be “transfigured,” to be changed.
“Rise and do not be afraid.”
Get up. Have courage. Rise. Here is hope. Here is salvation. Here is transcendent love.
It’s just that simple, and just that daunting. For people who are fearful of what they don’t know, or who are facing something they just don’t understand, it’s a tall order. The apostles in this Gospel react, I suspect, like most of us — confused, cringing, worried about what will come next. But this Sunday, these words from the letter of St. Peter, remind us:
“We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Jesus is “the morning star,” the “lamp in a dark place,” the beacon who shines forth from the mountaintop.
That’s just the beginning. What the apostles witnessed on that long-ago day on a distant mountaintop has relevance and meaning for us here and now. The mysterious power of the transfiguration foreshadows Christ’s own resurrection; it also gives a promise of other things to come — the destiny every one of us can attain in paradise.
So how do we do that? How do we even begin?
These words say it all: “Rise and do not be afraid.”
This is a message for every one of us, in every circumstance. To a broken world overcome by fear — anxious about everything from the stock market to war to political upheaval — rise and do not be afraid.
To those living with anxiety or dread, feeling powerless or hopeless: rise and do not be afraid. Do not cower in fear. Look, instead, to the light.
If we’re honest, we’re all afraid of something. That’s human. But Christ’s message tells us we shouldn’t be afraid — particularly not of light, or of God’s power at work in the world. This is how we are called to be like Christ and, just maybe, called to be transfigured into something more beautiful than we ever imagined.
We shouldn’t cower. Instead, rise. And do not be afraid!
Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog, “The Deacon’s Bench.”