- They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14)
God gave his word to Abram, and Abram believed. God took Abram’s faith as an act of righteousness. But as it happens not a few times to righteous believers, the father of believers could not help ask for a confirmation of the promise.
Obliging, God asked Abram to prepare various animals for a burnt offering. The sacrifice was consummated when a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between cut pieces of the animals. No one and nothing could prevent it: not the birds of prey that augured ill; nor the deep sleep that overcame Abram that perhaps signaled—as was the case with Adam’s deep sleep in Gen. 2:21—that a special divine intervention was about to take place; nor the terrifying darkness that enveloped Abram. Through a burnt offering intimately connected with the words of a more or less detailed explanation, God confirmed his promise (cf. SC 35).
The confirmation given to Peter, John and James, following Peter’s confession and Jesus’ prediction of his death, was the transfiguration. Upon witnessing the transfiguration, the three apostles were given a glimpse of the glory of Jesus’ coming resurrection. Peter misunderstood, perhaps confusing the event with something to do with the Feast of Tabernacles, but the transfiguration took place so that the truth that glory follows passion would be revealed. Jesus showed himself transfigured in glory in order to assure those who wanted nothing of suffering and death for the Messiah that he himself was indeed the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.
The transfiguration, then, was a clarification that the announced death would not be the end of everything. But, of course, this did not mean that Jesus was reneging on the matter of his passion and death. At the transfiguration, in fact, there was affirmation of passion and death, since there was talk of Jesus’ “exodus” or passing-over or death, and it was thus being indicated that the law and the prophets pointed to the destiny of the royal Son as being the destiny of the Suffering Servant. The promise with regard to this Saving Victim, pierced for our offenses and crushed for our sins, goes in part: (Is. 53:12):
- Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
- and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he
- surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked;
- and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for
- their offenses.
Today too I am looking for confirmation of the promise and I can perhaps ask something like: How am I to know that I am going to benefit from the liberation from sin and the pardon of offenses that Jesus has attained for us? And once again, it seems to me, the indication is that there will be no confirmation without my having recourse to the self-sacrificing one, who—to quote Benedict XVI—“on the Cross, consummated for all mankind the sacrifice of his life.” Directing my gaze at Christ crucified, I will find the incontrovertible proof that “death, which for the first Adam was an extreme sign of loneliness and powerlessness, was thus transformed in the supreme act of love and freedom of the new Adam.” If I want to know with certainty, I cannot conduct myself as an enemy of Christ’s cross. Rather, I should let the crucified one apply to me the transformation of humiliating death into a glorious act of love.
To benefit from such transformation and from the liberation and pardon won by Christ for us, there is no dispensing with the authentic proclamation of Jesus’ death until he comes in glory. Judgment I eat and drink on myself if I fail to discern the body of Christ (1 Cor. 11:17-30). The Eucharist impels me, to use once again the Pope’s words, to “welcome the love of Jesus, to learn to spread it around us with every word and deed.” To discern the body of Christ means to “recognize the wounds inflicted upon the dignity of the human person, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation, to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment of so many people,” in other words, to be committed to the evangelization of the poor.