Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Law And The Prophets Point Us To Jesus.

The Transfiguration window at St. Pius X Church in Westerly, R.I.

(Transfiguration (B): This homily was given on August 6, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Daniel 7: 9-14; 2 Peter 1: 16-19; Mark 9: 2-10.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Transfiguration 2006]

Have you ever wondered why they showed up?

Have you ever wondered why it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with Jesus on Mt. Tabor at the Transfiguration and not two other people?

I mean, why not King David and his son, King Solomon? They were also important Old Testament figures.

Or how about Abraham and Noah? Or Isaac and Jacob? God the Father could certainly have chosen to send any (or all) of them to Mt. Tabor that day to appear in a glorified state with Jesus, his Son.

If you don’t know the answer, don’t feel too bad about it. The meaning of Moses’ and Elijah’s presence on Mt. Tabor at the Transfiguration is not immediately obvious to most Christians today. And one reason for this is the simple fact that we’re not Jewish! That is to say, most of us—and most Christians in 2006—are not Jewish converts who understand Jewish symbolism.

Peter, James and John, of course, were Jews; they were good, practicing, devout Jews. So it was relatively easy for them to figure out why God had sent Moses and Elijah to the mountain that day and not two other people from the Old Testament.

Good Jews, you see, knew that Moses represented the law—especially the moral law that God had revealed to them on Mt. Sinai in the form of the Ten Commandments. And they knew that Elijah was—as the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it—“the loftiest and the most wonderful prophet of the Old Testament” (although Jews wouldn’t have referred to the Hebrew Scriptures as “the Old Testament”—that’s a Christian designation).

By sending Moses and Elijah, therefore, God was making a very important statement to these 3 apostles. He was saying to them: “The law and the prophets that you read about in the Sacred Scriptures both point you to Jesus! That’s why Moses and Elijah are here. The law and the prophets—two of the most important realities of your lives—testify to the fact that Jesus is my divine Son. So listen to Jesus! Follow Jesus! Obey Jesus! Do not be afraid to give your lives to him completely!”

Now that’s all very nice. But how exactly does it relate to us? How does this event 2,000 years ago on an obscure mountain in the Middle East relate to our experience in Westerly, R.I. at the beginning of the 21st century?


The law and the prophets pointed the apostles to Jesus 2,000 years ago.

And they do the very same thing for us today, although in a slightly different way.

For the Hebrews, the law was found in the Ten Commandments, and in the first 5 books of the Bible—the Torah. For us, the law—the Gospel Law—is contained in those same Ten Commandments, in the Beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the other moral teachings of the New Testament and the Church.

This Gospel Law points us to Christ, because it’s all his teaching. If we obey it, we find happiness, peace, joy—and our lives are orderly. If we disobey it, we experience sadness, frustration, confusion, anger, disorder—and perhaps even despair.

This truth really came home to me once on a youth retreat. There was a prayer service with the teens at certain point of the weekend, and one young girl from our group was obviously having a difficult time in the middle of it. So I and one of the female chaperones took her out of the service. We sat her down and asked her what was going on. She then began to hold her stomach and say, “I’m sick. I’m feeling sick. I think I’m going to be sick.”

When I heard that, I thought, “Oh wonderful. Is there a basin nearby?”

But it soon became clear to me that it wasn’t really a physical issue. She said, “Fr. Ray, I’m sick of how I’ve been living lately; I’m sick of some of the things I’ve been doing; I’m sick of it.”

This young woman was actually having a powerful experience of the grace of God! She was experiencing in her body the sickness of her soul. But at the same time, she was repenting and turning toward Jesus. Her violation of the moral law made her sick, but that pointed her to Jesus as the one who could forgive her and heal her and give her happiness again.

And the Lord did all that for her on the retreat. Needless to say, the rest of the weekend was awesome for her. Once she confessed her sins, received forgiveness, and renewed her commitment to Jesus, the sick feeling was gone, and she experienced joy and peace in her heart.

When we violate it—and when we obey it—the Gospel Law points us to Christ.

And so do the prophets!

The definition of a prophet is “one who speaks for God.” A prophet is someone who tells us the truth about life and about ourselves; he’s someone who speaks God’s word to us in a particular situation (whether we want to hear it or not!).

This means that we all have lots of prophets—lots of “Elijahs”—in our lives. We have the ones in the Bible (of course)! We have the ones in the official Church, in particular our Holy Father and the bishops in union with him. (When they speak as a body, they speak prophetically!)

But we also have ordinary prophets in our personal lives who speak the truth to us every day. They point us to Jesus, by encouraging us to be faithful to him and to his moral law. There’s a famous quote of St. Augustine where he speaks of the advice his mother gave him prior to his conversion—in the days when he was running around with women and living an immoral life. He wrote, “I remember my mother warned me in private not to commit fornication, and especially not to defile another man’s wife. These seemed to me womanish advices, which I should blush to obey. But they were yours, O God, and I knew it not.”

After his conversion, Augustine finally realized that his mother had been a prophet for him in telling him to be pure and chaste. Before his conversion he thought she was simply being a nag!

Not long ago a husband and wife were dealing with a particular problem, and I said to the woman, “Listen to your husband in this situation. He’s telling you what’s right. He’s saying what I think God would want him to say; he’s being a prophet for you.”

As I recall, she didn’t like that too much; it was not what she wanted to hear! On the other hand, he was ecstatic! But in any event, it proved to be true: once she took his advice, the situation improved dramatically.

Now in all fairness let it be known that I have also said the very same thing to certain men about their wives! I’ve said, “You need to pay attention to what your wife is saying to you right now. She’s telling you the Gospel truth; she’s being a prophet for you at this moment.”

It can work both ways in a marriage. And it very often does.

The law and the prophets point us to Jesus Christ—and to the happiness and peace that only he can give! That’s one of the most important lessons of the Transfiguration.

Dear Lord, help us to understand this message—and help us to live our lives accordingly. Amen.