Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, annually
Around 200 years before Jesus, Greek conquerors tried to make Jews abandon their religion. The Book of Daniel offered the Jews visions of their triumph and the final victory of their God.
Some early Christians were troubled by the fact that Jesus had not returned in glory. An author writing in the name of the apostle Peter counters their dismay with testimony based on the story in today's gospel.
Early in their following of Jesus, a few disciples get a privileged revelation of who Jesus is and how he fulfills their tradition.
The Historical Situation and Theological Background: This part of the Book of Daniel is an example of what's called apocalyptic literature (from the Greek word meaning "unveiling" or "revealing"). Toni Craven, in The Collegeville Bible Commentary (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press. 1992, p. 534) says these works flourished for about 300 years around the time of Jesus. They "always contain some revelation of information hidden from ordinary human understanding. Through the medium of angels, visions and bizarre symbolism, special knowledge is revealed. In the Book of Daniel, the special revelations in chapters 7-12 take the form of a kind of resistance literature that encouraged those experiencing persecution ... to persevere because the end of the time of tribulation was at hand. These apocalyptic predictions about the exact time of God's intervention and the heavenly events accompanying the establishment of the divine kingdom on earth are unique in the Old Testament (compare the New Testament Book of Revelation.)"
The Lector's Proclamation: So, how shall you, the lector, proclaim this? This is a good time to ask "Why do we proclaim any Scripture passage in the assembly of believers today?" A good answer goes like this: We believe the Bible is a record of how God's faithful people responded to God's guidance as they worked through the good times and the crises of their journeys of faith. We're on such a journey; we have trials, successes, failures, moments of grace that we accept and moments we sinfully reject. On our journey, we'll "see the way" more clearly if we reflect on how God "showed the way" to our ancestors when they were in situations like ours. That's why, over three years of Sundays (Years A, B & C, they're called), we read samples from every part of the Bible. At least some of those Sundays, we expect to "find ourselves" in the story of an earlier community of believers struggling to be faithful.
So, again, how shall you proclaim this? If you accept the foregoing thesis, you could proclaim it like its original proclaimer proclaimed it to its original audience. Put yourself in the place of Daniel, and imagine your hearers are Daniel's persecuted companions. As the first paragraph of this essay suggests, you've had a vision of how God is about to bring your people's tribulation to an end. You're excited and relieved. But they're not, so you have to communicate not just your vision, but your just-restored confidence.
Now let's focus more tightly on the question why we proclaim Scripture at all. Among the few hundred people who hear you this Sunday, at least some will be at a point in their journeys of faith where they need this kind of encouragement. Hearing your proclamation is part of their experience for the hour that they're in the assembly. They'll experience other things, too: the sharing of the Lord's Supper, the preaching, the singing, the other readings, the formal prayers, the sense of community with other worshipers. One or more of those elements should give them the encouragement their hearts long for. They might relive the experience of Daniel's original audience. Your careful, reverent, prepared proclamation can help "set this up." (Theologically speaking, you're helping human nature become disposed to receive God's grace.) Give it your best effort.
Proclamation to the Community: Now the above directs your efforts on behalf of individual listeners to the Word of God. What of the listening community, the body of Christ that should be finding its corporate identity from the experience of gathering, reflecting on the Word, singing God's praises, praying for their needs and the world's, sharing the Bread of Life? These words of Daniel told the original community that its head was to be the one on whom the Ancient One bestowed kingship, glory and dominion, the highest authority possible. These words say something similar to the contemporary church. We might interpret it as an encouraging word that we need to hear when the rest of society marginalizes us, thinks us quaint, disregards our prophetic positions, or, worse, succeeds in seducing us to assimilate. The imagery in the text of Daniel may seem grandiose, but it's not if the stakes are that high. Proclaim it as if you're speaking to and for the church that needs to hear this.
The Historical Setting: The first Christians lived in a time when lots of religious movements competed for peoples' loyalty. In this passage, the author wants to distinguish the Christian way from the others. Like the author of the letters of John, and several post-apostolic Christian writers, the author of the letters of Peter takes pride in the public character of Christian revelation. There are no secrets here. And though the exotic event we call the transfiguration had few witnesses, they have been entirely forthcoming about describing it in the gospels and in this letter.
Your Proclamation: This author is asserting his credentials, and contrasting them with those of the contemporary mystery religions. Make him sound convinced and convincing. "They have cleverly devised myths, while I am telling you what I witnessed firsthand, and our message is 'altogether reliable.'" Let this contrast find expression in your tone of voice, and emphasize the purpose of it all in the last sentence, "You will do well to be attentive to it."
Transfiguration of Jesus late 20th century relief sculpture by the German Franciscan Laurentius Ulrich Englisch (born 1939). Photograph by Rabanus Flavus. One of five works installed in Marienberg, Germany, illustrating the Lichtreichen Rosenkranz, the luminous mysteries of the rosary, proposed by Pope John Paul II in 2002 in his letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.
This page updated June 21, 2020