Second Sunday of Lent
Transfiguration of Jesus
Gn 12: 1-4A | 2 Tm 1: 8b-10 | Mt 17: 1-9
In the words of a contemporary song, we hear the beautiful capturing of an event that was recognized as the transfiguration of Jesus. “We behold the splendor of God shining on the Face of Jesus. We behold the splendor of God shining on the Face of the Son. And oh, how His beauty transforms us, the wonder of presence abiding. Transparent hearts give reflection of Tabor’s light within.” This must have been an awesome event to behold. Not only was Jesus seen to be in conversation with Moses and Elijah, two Old Testament figures representing the law and the prophets but the Trinity was clearly manifested in this sacred event. The Holy Spirit appeared in a cloud; the Father’s voice was heard; and Jesus was seen to be the Divine Son pleasing to His Father. No wonder the three Apostles were terrified. No wonder Peter asked Jesus to allow them to capture this moment for all time by building three shrines “one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” This event had a singular purpose. Christ’s Transfiguration was aimed at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of His Passion: As much as they wished otherwise, the ascent onto the 'high mountain' prepared for the ascent to Calvary.
Jesus was always about the business of cultivating “relationships”. That is why He chose to bring His three closest friends to experience a revelation so significant that it would change their lives forever. Peter would become the foundation of the Church; James would be the first martyr for the faith; John would be entrusted with care of the most precious gift of God, His own mother. Jesus wanted his disciples to know that He would experience a glorification beyond worldly understanding but it would be quite different from the one expected of Him. The glory that lay in store for Jesus which the disciples previewed in the transfiguration would only come through His death and resurrection. It would only be achieved through an ignominious and brutal execution that rested in the reality of the cross; this was His path to glory. But this implied something that Peter could not and would not accept because resurrection implied that there must first be a death and Peter could not conceive of the possibility of death at the hands of enemies. Indeed, it was that very death that Jesus was speaking about with Moses and Elijah.
In St. Luke’s account of this story, the bulk of the conversation took place when the disciples were asleep. Luke records that Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory and spoke of His death which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Christ’s death was the central point of the prophetic word, and here the prophets were speaking of it once more with the One who was going to fulfill their prophecies, with the One who was about to die. Peter and the others did not want to hear about suffering and death. They did not want a cross for Christ; understandably, they wanted glory. But this is what they did not understand: not only would there be a cross for Jesus, but there would also be one for the disciples as well. The voice from heaven instructed Peter, James, and John to do one thing: “listen to my beloved Son.” Forget your own thoughts and plans; “listen to Him.” And while they lay quivering with fear, Jesus touched them and said, “Do not be afraid.”And then Jesus gave them the admonition: “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” There would be no building of tabernacles, no staying on the mountain but there would be a resurrection from the dead, an event that would be shared by all who die in Christ and are raised to new life. The disciples might eagerly accept a glorified Jesus but they would not understand a Jesus who must die on the way to glorification. Too much emphasis on the final outcome would certainly hinder their understanding of the necessity of the cross for Jesus and eventually, for themselves.
Consider Cross or Glory? They do not mean the same thing nor are they mutually exclusive. The cross does not fit well with our vision of glory yet it is the only way that glory can be revealed. It does not fit well with our vision of who God should be. Surely, to be trapped in this way of thinking will never lead to glory; it will never satisfy, because as difficult as crosses are, they are at the heart of what it means to follow Christ. The transfigured body of Christ must have left the three disciples with an indelible picture of what deity truly means. This manifestation of divinity through the transformation of His humanity must have solidified their belief in their “Christ” even though they could not understand this plan of God. The transfiguration is a statement that through the incarnation, human beings can be transformed into the likeness of God and thus flower to full humanity.
And just as quickly as the event took shape, the vision of Moses and Elijah was suddenly gone. Our Lord’s clothing returned to normal. The features of His face no longer shone with the glory of God. The three friends needed to return to the familiar place of everyday living, but they must have done so with an increased awareness of what transfiguration meant for them. They, like us, were to continue the journey, to walk through life together, sometimes on the mountaintop of understanding and at other times, reaching out a hand to assure one another as they walked through the darkness of the valley. But in the end, they knew and passed the knowledge on to us that it’s the relationships that make us better; it’s our commitment to make a difference that will bring about personal transformation and it is our belief in the power of transfiguration that will make our faith stronger.
Sr. Anne Daniel Young, OP