Last week we went into the desert with Jesus to be tempted, today Jesus leads us up the mountain to be tricked. It is however for our own good and keeping this in mind will help us understand the Transfiguration.
Six days before this Jesus asked the apostles who did they think he was. Peter responded ”the Messiah”. (16:16) This answer is incomplete but still inspired by God and Jesus tells Peter that hewill be the rock on which the church is built. A great moment of triumph for them all. But then Jesus began to tell them about his upcoming death. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for saying this. (16:23) Far from seeking to soothe Peter Jesus calls him Satan and tells them all that they must “pick up their cross and follow him”. (16:24)
Now they are climbing a mountain. By tradition, this is Mt Tabor but that is not important. Mountains in the OT wereplaces of revelation. (e.g., Ex 24:9) When Jesus was transfigured, literally transformed with a face shining like the sun they would have been reminded of Moses whose face was also transformed when he came down from the mountain with the 10 commandments. (Ex 34:29-30) This could have many meanings but when they saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus, they knew that something great was about to happen. The OT proclaimed that Elijah was to return to prepare a way for the Messiah (Mal 3:23-24) who would be a prophet like Moses(Deut 18:15-19). This was a sign that the journey of the Jewish people was over, they had literally arrived. If they had time to think about it, they may also have thought that Elijah represented the Prophets and Moses the Law, and now both testify that Jesus will be the way the Kingdom comes.
Peter’s response was to ask Jesus if he wanted him to build three tents for him, Moses, and Elijah. This has a very specificmeaning which we still see around us in the Fall. Orthodox Jews still celebrate the feast of Booths – tents – by living in make ship ones for seven days to commemorate the Israelites’time in the desert. It also expressed the belief that at the coming of the Messiah, all nations will go to Jerusalem for this feast to create the new age. (Zech 14:16-20)
He may certainly have felt justified when a bright cloud cast a shadow over them. This is an ancient sign. God led the peoplethrough the desert by a pillar of cloud. (e.g., Ex 13:21-22)When Moses received the commandments, the cloud covered the mountain (Ex 24:15-18) and when God would visit the tabernacle – tent – of meeting a cloud would first descend on it. (Ex 40:34)
This cloud was also present when the temple in Jerusalem was dedicated. (1 Kings 8:11) More to the point however was that the cloud left the temple. The prophet Ezekiel reports that the presence of God left the temple because of the sinfulness of the people. (Ez 10) It was the deepest hope of the Jewish people that God’s presence seen in the cloud would return. (Ez 43:1-5) This meant that God was again living with his people.
This had not happened until the Transfiguration of Jesus. Peter James and John understood that this cloud meant these hopes were being fulfilled in Jesus. We can understand why Peter wanted to build those tents. What would be better than to rest and wait with Jesus for the angels to clear out the bad and set up the good? This was very reasonable and indeed highly scriptural.
But they were tricked,
Look at what the Father tells him, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. These are the same words he said at the Baptism of Jesus (Mt. 3:7) but this time for the apostles to hear and he adds “listen to him”. Jesus had just told them that he was going to suffer and die, and they may have had the sinking feeling that they would follow him.
They will not be resting on a mountain while choirs of angels rebuild the world. They will be working in the world to build the kingdom of God. It began with the death and resurrection of Jesus but will continue until he returns at the end of time.
They have been given the experience of seeing Jesus in his glory to inspire and strengthen them for the journey and he offers it to us as well.
The execution narrative is often seen as a mirror image of the Transfiguration. (27:32-54) In one all is light, in the other all is darkness. This is quite true, but I think its fulfillment is in the separation of the sheep from the goats in Matt 25 (31-46) When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and perform the other acts of mercy we see Jesus. He is transfigured not in visible glory but nonetheless before our eyes.
These presences of Jesus need each other, we will not see the Lord in Glory if we do not see him in the poor and distressed.This is quite difficult so we should seek every experience of the presence of Jesus here and now.
A privileged way is in the Mass. Here we join with Jesus in his offering of himself to the Father. It forms our covenant with God and our neighbor, and this heavenly food nourishes us for our earthly journey.
The Mass is not a time to adore Jesus. It is “through him and with him and in him” that we offer ourselves to the Father. In celebrating the Eucharist, the Father is our focus. Indeed, the prayers are clearly directed to Him. Yet the Church in her wisdom has given us time to do this in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Here we can give our time and intention to Jesus who is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. I find it the simplest devotion; I look at Jesus and he looks at me. We will have adoration and benediction several times every week in Lent and we urge you to participate.
Spend this time with Jesus then seek to find him transfigured in the faces of your neighbors.