As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, ‟Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9). Why does Jesus command them not to tell anyone about the incredible event they just witnessed in the Transfiguration until after the Resurrection? We hear this a few times in the Gospels, but usually it’s related to a healing or miracle. This one is different because he invokes the Resurrection. First, how hard must it have been for Peter, James, and John to keep the Transfiguration to themselves! Second, were they asking themselves, “what is he talking about being raised from the dead?‟
Setting Up Their Faith
The main reason that Jesus commands them to keep this glorious vision of the Transfiguration a secret until after the Resurrection was so that people would believe in Jesus for the long haul. If people believed in Jesus prior to His passion and death, then their faith might have been destroyed. In other words, they would have been so distraught with the Crucifixion that they would not have been around for the Resurrection. The Cross would have been too much for them to remain as a believer in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have appeared too weak to be the Son of God. The mockery from others as a follower of His would have been too overwhelming to endure. Just witnessing the brutality of His passion and death would have been a visual from which they couldn’t come back.
The Greatest Sign of His Divinity
This happened to the Apostles. They were there for the events that revealed his divinity – the Transfiguration, miracles, healings, exorcisms, etc. They spent three intimate years with Him, and believed firmly that He is the Son of God. And yet, where were they during His passion and death? All of them except for one (John) were gone. They couldn’t endure it. We see women at the foot of the Cross….where were all the men? Even Jesus’s closest followers were so blown away by His suffering that they left Him. Three days later when the greatest sign of His divinity occurs which is the Resurrection, again it’s the women who are there and the men are not (if that was a “day without women” we’d all be in real trouble!). The women even have to convince the Apostles that He is risen! So, the Lord knew that human nature being what it is, it was better to keep his divinity as much a secret as possible until it was fully revealed.
The reality of this “secret” still plays out today in at least two ways. First, people are still bothered by the Cross…overwhelmed by it, really. Some are bothered by the Cross of Christ to the point that they don’t believe. Many are so turned off by their own cross that they stop believing. How many people have we known that went through a tragic death or bitter divorce or abuse and stopped coming to Church? I think it’s because of events like these that people have insulated themselves from as much suffering as possible. People avoid the Cross at all costs.
Not Everyone is Ready to Hear
The second part of this “secret” is helpful today. Sometimes the virtue of prudence calls for silence or a secret, as it did at the Transfiguration. “Not everyone is ready to hear the truth all the time” was a line from one of my seminary professors. Parents use this technique with their little kids who are too young to hear certain things. I often advise parents of older kids (who are adults) who have stopped attending Mass to go silent about it for a while. If you have given them the teaching that they need to keep holy the Sabbath and receive the Eucharist at Mass, then they know where you stand. It might be better to stop harping on it. It might be more fruitful long-term in terms of their relationship with you and their faith. This takes us back to the reason that Jesus ordered the secret. God sees long-term with us, and calls us to have the same “spiritual maturity.”
May you know the peace of Christ,
We celebrated All Souls Day last Wednesday, and during the month of November we are praying for all the souls in Purgatory. Why did God allow them to die? Why does He allow anything bad? These are tough questions, and the Church does not claim to have all the answers. But, when it comes to death, the readings in November provide some insights.
My first funeral as a priest was for a baby (“Ikesi”) who was two weeks out of the womb. How does one talk to that family? They are a devout, Catholic family, but they asked, “why?…why is God allowing this?” I listened to them and cried with them. I later responded to them by saying that when I ask why, I look at a crucifix. Why did God allow His own son to die? If we look at why we call the day He died “Good Friday”, we can again arrive at an answer. We call it “Good” because of the good that came out of it: our salvation and redemption, of course. But, and this is what we hear in the readings in November, resurrection is what comes out of Christ’s death. In other words, we call it Good Friday because of Easter Sunday.
In general, the Church teaches that God allows bad things to happen in order to bring good out of them. In fact, it’s a greater good. Think about Christ’s suffering and death: as bad as it all was, the good that God brought out of it was even greater. That greater good was resurrection. The second reading (Romans 6:3-9) from the Mass for All Souls says, “we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him”. In His resurrection, Christ conquered death! He has power over all things, including death. To get a fuller sense of the magnitude of this, imagine that you’re at a funeral. The casket is in the front of the Church, and the person has been dead for 3-4 days. Imagine the person getting out of the casket, and walking around….alive! That is resurrection. That’s what happened with Christ, and I’m sure it spooked people like it would spook us at a funeral. In fact, even more so: no one had ever risen from the dead before Christ. That’s what happened with Him: His body was dead, and then it was alive. Today’s Gospel sums it up perfectly: “He is not God of the dead, but of the living”.
That’s what can happen for us: “if, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him”. And, the Lord says in the Gospel (Jn 6:37-40) on All Souls, “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day”. If we live and die in Christ, we shall rise with Christ. So, God allows death, as bad as it is, so that something greater can come out of it which is resurrection and eternal life. In short, we have to go through death to get to Heaven.
Last Tuesday was the Solemnity of All Saints. One of the most beautiful teachings of the Church is the Communion of Saints. This refers to the interaction between the saints in Heaven and the saints on Earth. It happens at every Mass, including every funeral Mass. At the Consecration, the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . Where there is the Son, there is the Father and the Spirit, and all the angels and saints. The Eucharist is where Heaven and Earth unite. This Church becomes a chamber of Heaven. We don’t see the saints, but we believe that they are there. Baby Ikesi and all those you know who have died who are among the saints in Heaven will be there. God allowed them to suffer and die temporarily so that they could receive the greatest good which is life in Heaven. And, it’s forever.
May you know the peace of Christ,
Fr. Greg Shaffer
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