Saturday in the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time
Hebrews 11:1ff. Some famous incidents from the origins of the human race (Gen 1-11) that make clear how faith is assurance of what we hope for, and do not see.
Mark 9:2ff. Jesus’ transfiguration, when he appears in glory between his major fore-runners, Moses and Elijah.
Faith and Visions
The need for faith is not removed even by the experience of visions. The experience of Jesus’ transfiguration led to further questions for the disciples – Peter, James and John, who were with Jesus on the mountain – who now perceived a new dimension present in their daily life. Visions do not stop the clock but are a momentary insight that will tend to leave us more restless and unsettled than before.
The transfiguration of Jesus, like his baptism and prayer in Gethsemane, enables us to see for a moment the intimate personal relation between Jesus and the Heavenly Father. We see also his close contact with us in an earthly life ending in death, and the overlapping of future glory with present difficulties in one profound life-force. At the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus was baptized by John, the heavens were split open and a voice proclaimed with loving approval, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11). This message of endearment was fraught with responsibility, resonant with the enthronement of the Davidic king (Ps 2) along with the difficult vocation of the suffering servant (Isa 42). The transfiguration scene also presents Jesus in closeness to God the Father, but likewise is the fearful sense of impending doom is accented. Coming down from the mountain Jesus speaks of his death, and in Luke’s account he discusses with Elijah and Moses his “exodus” or passing from this world to the next (Luke 9:31).Finally, when the time for that passing was at hand, Jesus is once again wrapped in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, this time pleading, “Abba (Father), you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me!” (Mark 14:36).
Jesus felt the profound mystery of God the Father’s presence within the path of his human life on its various stages towards his inevitable death. Death will be the supreme moment of God’s intense, intimate presence with us as it was with Jesus. Only after we have traveled that passage from life through death into eternal life, only after the child of earth has risen from the dead, can we really tell what we have seen in the course of our life, just as the fleeting vision of Jesus’ transformation on the mountain transformed his disciples’ understanding of him.
Hebrews summarizes what we have seen in Genesis but also warns that what we thought we understood is only half of the truth. For this author, “faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.” When we think we see and understand, we should be filled with new questions. The wonder of God is so great that we may be certain that it is far beyond what we understand.
First Reading: Hebrews 11:1-7
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an eir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
Gospel: Mark 9:2-13
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”