What the transfiguration experience reveals
By June Renie
In last Sunday’s gospel (Mt 4:1–11) we learnt that soon after Jesus’s baptism and before commencing His ministry, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested.
We understand that this testing was to prove Jesus to be the perfect man, the sinless one, tested in every way and who resisted temptation/sin. This was a necessary qualification for Jesus to be the Christ, redeemer of the world.
Today’s gospel puts us at the Transfiguration, the culminating point of Jesus’ earthly ministry, almost to its conclusion and in final fulfilment of God’s plan for our redemption, through suffering on the cross of Calvary.
Until now, Jesus’ ministry was of teaching and healing. Now He will begin His journey to Jerusalem, where He will be crucified.
The transfiguration upon a high mountain was deliberate. The high mountain is regarded as the point where humanity meets God: the meeting place between God and man; the spiritual and eternal with Jesus as the connecting point; the bridge between Heaven and earth.
The high mountain is also reminiscent of the wilderness, a place of isolation, of solitary prayer, where one encounters God, and is strengthened and bolstered for the journey ahead. History records this high mountain as Mount Tabor.
Here in the presence of three chosen disciples – Peter and James and his brother John – Jesus was transfigured. “…his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him.” (Mt 17:2–4) “and…a voice from the cloud…This is my son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.” (Mt 17:1–9).
We recall the cloud that led the Israelites by day, as they journeyed to the Promised Land.
The “listen to Him” was a message to all, of the relationship of sonship between Jesus and God as Father. Jesus’ divinity was already stated at His baptism when a voice from Heaven was heard saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on Him.” Now the voice is again heard acknowledging Jesus’ sonship with God but this time there was an additional caveat “Listen to Him”.
The disciples fell on their face and were overcome with fear. They were Jesus’ inner circle; invited to witness this mystical event. Peter for his zeal and love who had just confessed Jesus “as the Christ, Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16) and for this he was given leadership responsibilities. “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church… to you I give the keys…” (Mt 16:18–19).
James was to be the head of the Church of Jerusalem and soon to drink of Christ’s cup and John was the disciple Jesus loved; he was to be the recipient of Divine revelation and it was to John that Jesus entrusted His mother. “Woman behold your son, son behold your mother” (Jn:19). These three disciples were to have the responsibility in establishing the Church.
The disciple Peter, having witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, in his total confusion and fear after such a surreal experience, when he could speak, said to Jesus “Lord it is wonderful for us to be here; … I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was however interrupted by the voice from the cloud.
The transfiguration experience revealed the deity of Christ in all His glory; it was a foretaste of the glory in Heaven, the proof that death cannot destroy the glory that is to follow the resurrection and that death in God’s service was the way to victory over the grave and to glory in Heaven.
To Jesus it promised that suffering on the Cross would be worth the eternal glory of Heaven. To the disciples, it strengthened their witness of Jesus’ glory that awaited them and us in fulfilment of our mission as faithful and trusted disciples.
The gospel meditations for March are by June Renie, a retired law librarian and a graduate of the Catholic Bible Institute. She is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist at St Anthony’s parish, Petit Valley.