To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 15:5-12,17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28b-36
The Transfiguration of Jesus, which is the subject of the Gospel text for today, is an event narrated by all three Synoptic Gospels. This scene in Luke makes three major points. The first is the revelation of who Jesus is; the second is the foreshadowing of his death, resurrection, and exaltation into heaven; the third is the training of the disciples, and each of us, about the meaning of the whole Christ event.
It is only in Luke that the Transfiguration occurs in the context of Jesus’ prayer. Just as the voice from heaven, inviting him to be Son and slave, spoke while Jesus was praying after his baptism, so also now, at the Transfiguration, the voice from the cloud speaks in the context of Jesus’ prayer. Through this, Luke draws attention to the fact that prayer has the power to mediate the presence of God.
The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain confirms that Jesus was in the presence of God. It also serves to clarify that Jesus is, indeed, God’s Son. While Moses and Elijah, who appear with Jesus on the mountain, might represent the Law and the Prophets, they are also mentioned because of the actions they performed. Like Moses, who parted the sea on the command of God, and who fed the multitude in the desert with manna from heaven, Jesus calms the storm and feeds the five thousand with bread. Like Elijah, who multiplied loaves, cleansed a leper, and raised the dead, Jesus does the same, and even more. Only in Luke are we given the content of the discussion that Moses and Elijah have with Jesus. They are discussing his exodus from this world to the next. They are discussing his departure.
Though Peter and his companions, John and James, witness the event, they do not know what to make of it. Peter, however, wants to remain there and commemorate the place. He wants to remain in the past. Jesus knows that he cannot remain on the mountain, tempting as that might be. He knows what he has to do and he will let no one come in the way. He has to come down and go to the Cross. That Jesus is, indeed, confirmed in this is manifested by the voice from the clouds which, in words similar to those used at the Baptism, affirms Jesus as Son and slave. Jesus is both at the same time. He is Son of God and he is Suffering Servant. He will, through his death, bring salvation to all. He is the fulfilment of all the hopes, not only of Israel but, of the whole world. He supersedes both Moses and Elijah. They are no longer needed now that Jesus has come.
This time, unlike at the time of the Baptism, the voice from the clouds adds, “Listen to him”. This command endorses and confirms Jesus’ interpretation of the future course of events that will take place in his life, namely, his death, resurrection, and ascension. God approves of Jesus’ orientation and wants the disciples to realise that this is the only way. Thus, they cannot remain on the mountain. They cannot freeze the event and stay there. They have to go down with Jesus and let him go to where the Cross awaits him.
The Transfiguration is an event which encapsulates the whole Christ event. It is here that we see his entire life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension unfold. It is a summary of what was, what is, and what will be. Thus, the Transfiguration emphasizes that God has been revealed through Jesus and that the essence of Jesus’ identity and work cannot be understood apart from the cross and resurrection. Only in the light of the cross and resurrection do we understand the character of God and the significance of Jesus.
The Transfiguration also serves to emphasize that, though God will seem hidden at the passion and death of Jesus, and though Jesus might seem defeated, things are not as they seem. Rather, God is as present at the passion and death of Jesus as he was at the Transfiguration. Jesus is as victorious in his passion and death as he was in his Transfiguration. In the first reading of today, this is precisely the kind of confidence that Abram is challenged to have. He and his wife are old, they do not have even one son and yet, God commands him to believe that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abram dared to believe, even when he could not understand, and it was so. He first believed and then, he saw.
The readings of today teach us an all important lesson. There are times in our lives when things do not go the way we plan, when all that we plan goes awry, when the road seems steep and the going is difficult, when every step that we take is laboured and arduous, when we cannot see or understand and, when we feel like giving up and giving in. It is at times like these that we, like Peter, wish we had stayed on the mountain. It is at times like these when we, like Abram, might like some tangible proof, some sign. Yet, the Transfiguration of Jesus, and the attitude of Abram, teach that God continues to walk ahead of us and, though we may not be able to see him as clearly as we would like, God is there.
This is why Paul calls the Christian community at Philippi to join him in imitating Christ. This means that they must be able, like Christ, to look beyond and not be weighed down by the trials and tribulations of the world. It means that they must continue to have faith and trust at all times since trials and tribulations are always temporary and passing. What is permanent is God’s unconditional love, manifested in his Son, Jesus Christ. Our confidence is not in our ability to overcome the challenges that come our way, but in God’s grace that we constantly receive in, and through, Jesus Christ.