23Feb 23 February. Saturday of Week 6

After the Transfiguration, the three struggled to understand why Jesus foresaw a violent death for himself..

1st Reading: Hebrews 11:1-7

By faith we understand that the world is ruled by God’s will

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.

Responsorial: Psalm 144:2-5, 10-11

Response: I will praise your name for ever, Lord.

I will bless you day after day
and praise your name for ever.
The Lord is great, highly to be praised,
his greatness cannot be measured. (R./)

Age to age shall proclaim your works,
shall declare your mighty deeds, s
hall speak of your splendour and glory,
tell the tale of your wonderful works. (R./)

All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord,
and your friends shall repeat their blessing.
They shall speak of the glory of your reign
and declare your might, O God. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 9:2-13

Jesus’ transfiguration, between his fore-runners, Moses and Elijah

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 nobody 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 nobody with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell nobody 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.”


Faith and visions

The need for trusting faith is not removed even if one were granted heavenly visions. The experience of Jesus’ transfiguration led to further questions for the disciples. Peter, James and John, who were with Jesus on the mountain, now perceived a new dimension present in him, but they still had to struggle to understand why he foresaw a violent death for himself. Even if we have a momentary insight into the divinity that shapes our lives, it can leave us more unsettled than before.

The transfiguration, like his baptism and prayer in Gethsemane, lets us see for a moment the intimate personal relation between Jesus and the Heavenly Father. We see also his close contact with us in his acceptance of death, and the overlapping of future glory with present difficulties in one profound life-force. The transfiguration story shows how close Jesus is to God the Father, but likewise the fearful sense of impending doom is accented. Coming down from the mountain he spoke about his coming 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).

Jesus felt the profound divine presence during his human life on its various stages towards his inevitable death. Death will be the supreme moment of God’s intimate presence to us as it was with Jesus. Only after we have made that passage from life through death into eternal life, will we fully understand our life, just as the fleeting vision of Jesus’ transformation on the mountain transformed his disciples’ understanding.

The text from Hebrews warns that what we understand 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 fully understand, we need some new questions. God is so great that we are always learners about the mystery of creation.

Moments of exaltation

Sometimes we can feel wonderfully happy,  when, like Peter on the mount of transfiguration, we feel exalted in spirit and are inclined to say, “it is good for us to be here.” At other times we sense an unease, a restlessness, a kind of emptiness that is never fully filled.

We have potential for something that this world cannot fully give us. Saint Augustine said our hearts are restless until they rest in God. But already here and now in this earthly life, we can begin to experience the love of God through our relationship with Jesus.


Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, bishop and martyr

Polycarp is connected with the major Church figures shortly after the time of the apostles. The account of his martyrdom is the first after that of St Stephen. He was a was a disciple of the apostle John and became bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor. He knew both Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyon, and was respected as a link between the apostolic age and later times.