DANIEL 7:9-10, 13-14 | 2 PETER 1:16-19 | MATTHEW 17:1-9
We’re presented with one of the most important scenes in the New Testament for our reflection today, the transfiguration of Jesus. Let’s put the scene into a context before we delve into its significance.
Six days earlier Jesus had led his disciples to the city of Caesarea Philippi, a place sacred to Jews and Gentiles. There he asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers varied. They said that some people believed that the Son of Man was the prophet Elijah, others, John the Baptist or another one of the prophets. Jesus pushed them, asking more specifically: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter immediately declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then told Peter that he was to be the rock upon which he would build his Church. Then, to the amazement of the disciples, Jesus made the first prediction of his passion.
Then, the little group traveled for six days. As he often did, Jesus took them to a hilltop to pray. This time he split the group. He took Peter, James and John with him to a higher elevation. There, they witnessed something they would never forget. These three Jewish men experienced the entire history of the Jewish people.
By leading them to the mountain top Jesus was reenacting Moses’ climb to Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God, the document that would forever bind God to the Jewish people. He was also reenacting Elijah’s climb to Mount Horeb where he experienced God in the sound of a still, small voice.
When they got to the top of the mountain Jesus’ face and clothing began to shine with the blinding radiance of God’s glory. Peering into the light of that glory, they saw Jesus speaking with Moses the law-giver, and Elijah the most revered of the Jewish prophets. Then a cloud came. But it wasn’t an ordinary cloud that occasionally de- scends upon a mountaintop; it was the shechinah, the cloud of fire that led the Jewish people through the desert, and the cloud of God’s glory that descended on Mount Sinai, and on the meeting tent, and on the ark of the covenant. From within the cloud they heard the voice of the Father. They collapsed in fear. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
From this moment on, Jesus will be making his way to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die. This moment on the mountain has sealed and blessed his mission. We’re told in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah about his Exodus, his Passover from this world to the Father. His prayer on that mountain top was asking for clarity. Was he to continue to Jerusalem? Was death and resurrection his Father’s will for him? The events on that mountaintop anointed the final steps of his mission. He had taught his disciples the mysteries of the kingdom. He had accepted his anointing as the Lamb of God whose blood will take away the sin of the world.
The transfiguration prepared Jesus to complete his mission. He was ready to proceed to Jerusalem. The disciples will follow him to Jerusalem but they still have to interiorize what they experienced on the mountain. Soon, they’ll witness his death and resurrection. They’ll be anointed by the Spirit. They’ll become light for the world and salt for the earth. They’ll continue his mission in the world.