The first Sunday of Lent last week highlighted the man Jesus Christ sorely tempted by Satan but mightily triumphant by heeding God’s Biblical word. The second Sunday of Lent now draws the faithful’s attention to Jesus Christ transfigured on the mountain, resplendent in his Divine nature. This liturgical year St. Matthew has the privilege of describing the brilliantly impressive Savior: “And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Next year, St. Mark will have the honor of recounting the awesome sight of the transfigured Messiah: “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” (A fuller, by the way, is someone who works on cloth to make it more attractive.) And then the following year St. Luke will accept the challenge of portraying Christ clothed in splendor: “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.”
Heavenly beings arrayed in white are frequently encountered throughout the sacred writings. In the Book of Daniel the end times are described as a solemn enthronement: “Thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took his throne. His clothing was white as snow.” Both St. Matthew and St. John agree that the angels who greeted the women at the tomb of the Risen Christ were dressed in white: “His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.” And again, “And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there.” In the Book of Revelation white attire is worn by the twenty-one “elders” who gather around the throne, and by the “great multitude” who represent every nation under heaven, and finally by the “armies of heaven” who are bedecked in “clean white linen.”
The splendor of Jesus Christ on the mountain is undeniable. His dazzling presence was fondly remembered by Saints Peter, James and John who, only after the Resurrection, shared with the other disciples their awesome memory. St. Peter writes, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” While St. Peter is rightly impressed by the “majesty” of Christ revealed by his white attire, he is more properly and more rightfully impressed with the Sonship of Jesus Christ announced by the Father: “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” God the Father himself announces from the heavens that Jesus Christ is the Father’s beloved Son — the apple of the Father’s eye, so to speak. The glowing appearance of the white robed Jesus Christ, undeniably grand, correctly yields in the mind of St. Peter to the true source of Christ’s grandeur: his Divine Sonship. And to underline exactly what Sonship is going to mean for Christ and should mean for all of Christ’s followers, the Father sends two delegates to illustrate vividly and graphically the meaning and significance of authentic sonship.
The prophet Moses was an obedient son in the midst of a rebellious and stiff-necked people. He was a man of tested fidelity among a people who failed often in their trust of God through their repeated idolatry, their faithlessness and their ingratitude. Elias, also, was an obedient son, a lonely man of fidelity in an era of widespread apostasy, blasphemy, and godlessness. When the vicious Queen Jezebel desecrated the Temple staffing it with her pagan priests and foreign prophets, Elias alone had the courage to stand and defend the old time Jewish religion. Jesus, clearly, in his public life of teaching and healing but especially during his cruel passion and punishing death, showed himself to be the obedient son, totally responsive to the Father’s will in spite of fickle disciples, unprincipled pagans and faithless Jews. All three of these men on the mountain put filial obligation above personal independence. They prized divine duty over earthly opportunity. Jesus, Moses and Elias all responded to challenges far beyond their own interests and thus joyously discovered their true identities as beloved sons of their heavenly Father.
The challenge given to Christians today is no different from the mission given to Christ, Moses, and Elias. As St. Paul reminds the young Timothy: “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our own works but according to his own design.” A true Christian son, a true Christian daughter, will heed the Father’s grand design rather than one’s own particular devices.