When looking at today’s Gospel reading, the focus is usually on what is spoken, both by Peter, and by the Father’s voice from the cloud. But this morning at Mass I was struck by the unspoken similarities between the first reading and the Gospel.
Keep this scene in mind of the disciples awaking from sleep to see Jesus, blindingly radiant, standing between Moses and Elijah.
Now compare that with the first reading. When Abram asks God how he can know that he will come to possess the land of Canaan, God makes a covenant with him. He tells Abram to perform an animal sacrifice. That particular type of sacrifice, splitting the animals in two, signified a curse upon the covenant maker, should he break the covenant. In other words, ‘May I be split in two like these animals if I break this covenant.” The promise is then ratified by passing between the animals.
Abram falls asleep, and wakes up to see a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passing between the split animal carcasses. God, represented by a flaming torch, is ratifying His promise to Abram. His descendants will, after many hardships, inhabit the promised land, and will become a great nation.
Now back to that scene on the mountain with Jesus and the three disciples. They were heavy with sleep but when fully awake they saw Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, in other words the Old Covenant, with Jesus standing between them, transfigured by a brightness that was too much to look at.
Like the lighted torch which passed between the sacrified animals, the Son of God is radiant with the light of His divinity, standing between Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, the two halves, so to speak, of the Old Covenant. He is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, because every covenant God made with man from the beginning salvation history was leading up to this: Jesus taking on human flesh to die for our redemption.
God’s promise to Abraham, to give him the land of Canaan, to make a great nation whose descendants would be as numerous as the stars, was all leading up to this one descendant of his who, conceived by the Holy Spirit, would be born of the Virgin Mary in order to die on the cross and rise on the third day – Jesus, the fulfillment of all God’s promises.