Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen. Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.
Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Today’s gospel passage reports on an outstanding success in the life of Jesus. On his way up to Jerusalem, as he journeyed towards his death on the cross, Jesus withdrew for a moment of prayer and invited three of his disciples to join him in prayer and rest. They were men who thought they knew him well. They had been with him a long time, and had heard many things from him. Now they were to see him differently – he was transformed, divine. They saw him in the company of two men of God, conversing with him about his imminent death in Jerusalem. The disciples, who had been thinking only of passing some time in prayer with their Master, listened in astonishment to this conversation. The poor men were barely able to stay awake, and when they began to speak again, they did not know what they were saying. They would have liked to interrupt Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and remain forever on that mountain, even if it meant creating a space for these new companions of Jesus and allowing them to share their privilege. Everything seemed wonderful! They were happy and lacked nothing, even though there was nothing on that lonely mountain-top.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
In complete contrast to the preceding episode, in which Jesus reacted to Peter’s first confession of faith (Lk 9, 18-21) by foretelling his imminent passion and the price that his followers would have to pay (Mk 9,22-27), the evangelist now records an unusual incident, the transfiguration of Jesus. It is the first and only manifestation of his glory. Without great emphasis, it lets us see the profound mystery of the personal adventure of Jesus. His via crucis is nothing other than his path to glory. The cross is not the final stage; it is his only way to God (cf Lk 2, 9: 24, 26).
Luke’s account of the transfiguration follows that of Mark closely (Mk 9, 2-8), but it has its own particular slant. Jesus chooses those who will be his companions at prayer, and he climbs the mountain with them. His conversation with God, in the presence of witnesses, is the reason that brings Jesus to the loneliness of the mountain. Jesus changes in face and in appearance while he prays. His transfiguration is preceded by a conversation with God. God can introduce him as his only Son, because he, the Son, has come into the presence of his Father. Speaking to God makes it easier for Jesus to speak to men about God. The presence of Moses and Elijah serves only to confirm the testimony that Jesus had given eight days earlier, since they spoke among themselves about his imminent death, his exodus. What the disciples saw and heard was stupendous, but it was nothing to the drama that was still to come.
Peter managed to mutter how good it was, just as the two glorious companions of Jesus were disappearing. He did not know what he was saying, but he felt good until the cloud surrounded them and he heard a voice, the same voice they had heard when Jesus was being baptized (Lk 3, 22). As the vision was dimmed and they were awakened by the sound of the voice, they felt the fear that comes from the immediate presence of God. They cannot hide the fact that God – by his Word – introduces Jesus to them as his beloved Son and orders them to listen to him. The whole experience, which began as prayer, ends in a silence imposed by God who presents himself as the Father who loves Jesus. When the favoured disciples know that they must obey this man who is journeying towards his death, they have nothing to say. God’s decisions are accepted in silence.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus knows that he is going towards a cruel death. At one point on the journey, God allows himself to be heard in order to reveal the true identity of Jesus to some chosen disciples. They had gone with Jesus to pray with him, but they witnessed a miracle, even though they were half-asleep, disoriented and afraid. They were not prepared for so great a discovery. As the miracle was happening, they could only mutter, when they should have stayed silent. Later, when they knew who Jesus was, they were unable to speak. These close disciples of Jesus cut a sorry figure! Indeed, God’s manifestation does not always find even the best disciples ready and prepared. Nevertheless, God continues to speak about Jesus – He is my Son. And he continues to impose obedience – Listen to him! We should not forget that the disciples who received this revelation about Jesus were the ones who were accompanying him – albeit unwillingly and unknowingly – on the way of the cross. If they had not been his companions on the way of the cross, they would not have seen Jesus in his glory as Son of God. The disciples who accepted Jesus’ invitation to pray with him, found themselves in the presence of God. This is significant. It is true that a cloud obscured their joy, but they were able to hear the voice of God who revealed to them that the one they thought was only their teacher of prayer was indeed the beloved Son of God. First, they joined Jesus in prayer and silence. Then they heard God and saw their Lord in glory. Seeing Moses and Elijah with Jesus made them enthusiastic. Hearing the voice of God frightened them into silence.
It was the voice of God that revealed to them the identity of Jesus. It is the Father who must identify his Son. Hearing the Word of God proves to be more decisive than seeing the glory of Jesus. What God says about Jesus reveals more than what they can see for themselves. Accepting what he commands us to do, is more important than feeling good in the presence of Jesus. We must allow God to tell us what Jesus is to be for us. We have to learn to see and love Jesus with the eyes and heart of God. We will not overcome our fears, nor will we be filled with joy, if we do not allow Jesus to be for us what God wants him to be. He is God’s chosen Son who must be listened to and obeyed, whom we must know in order to love, whose life we must share if we are to follow him closely.
As disciples of Jesus, we can be fascinated by him, and enthusiastic about him, and yet not be led to live better Christian lives. If our relationship with Jesus is such that we just want to feel good being with him, if we follow him just to find a happiness that we cannot achieve on our own, and spend time in prayer with him only because we want to see miracles, then we will never really meet him and God will not reveal him to us. We should not lay so much emphasis on the benefits we draw from following Jesus. Feeling good is not the best reward of our life of prayer, nor is the fact that we feel better when we are with Jesus than we do on our own. This is not the main reason for our prayer. We should allow God to tell us what Jesus is to be for us. Only then will we have the Son of God as our companion and teacher. We need to take Jesus more seriously, walk with him wherever he wants to lead us, go with him when he wants to pray, obey him once and for all, and then he will become for us the God who teaches us and walks with us on our journey.
Perhaps some of us, listening to this gospel passage, have asked ourselves – and with good reason – why is Jesus not transfigured now. Why do we not see Jesus in glory and find ourselves transformed by him, as those three disciples were? Is there anyone among us who does not feel a certain envy of those fortunate disciples who saw Jesus in his divine glory, and were so close to him that they suddenly felt it was good to be there? We should not forget that the disciples who were so enthusiastic for Jesus on seeing him transfigured and so different from the Jesus they had seen every day, were the ones who had accepted the invitation to go and pray alone with him. Finding time to pray together, alone with him on the mountain and alone with God, led them to discover in Jesus something that they had not yet seen in him. When they saw him praying, despite their feeling sleepy and confused, they saw that he was really Jesus, and they saw who he wanted to be for them. When they prayed with him, they were happy to be with him, even though they knew they could not share with others the company of Jesus and the conversation they had with him.
When they prayed with him, they heard the voice of God himself who introduced Jesus to them as his beloved Son. Instead of being envious of the three disciples who went up the mountain to pray alone with Jesus, and instead of getting annoyed with Jesus because he does not let us see how wonderful he is, and only rarely lets us feel good in his company, we ought to ask ourselves what reasons has he for not being transfigured in our presence. Maybe we would know the reasons if we knew where we are, what is it that occupies our minds and our bodies, day and night, while we are at prayer with him. What is it that preoccupies us, when his main preoccupation is to pray with us? Does he find us wrapped up in our own dreams and lost in our illusions? We would know why we do not see Jesus in glory, if we thought about where we are when we could be feeling good in his presence, and how far we sometimes go from him when we are seeking happiness.
Let us try to see where we were when we should have been with God, and what we were doing when we should have been giving time and attention to this God who wants to speak to us about his beloved Son. Then we will know why Jesus has not become for us our wonderful teacher and the Son of God in glory.
It is not surprising that those who do not see anything extraordinary in Jesus are not enthusiastic about being with him and do not wish to stay with him to the end. Anyone who has not had, in the course of his life, a glimpse of this wonderful, magnificent, divine Jesus will not know what it means to get excited about him and to risk everything for him. A Christian life without excitement and risk is not worthy of him. Disciples who have never felt good being with him, who have never been aware of his presence with them as they prayed, who have not heard the voice of God while they were sharing a time of prayer with Jesus, are not worthy of him. If we never get enthusiastic about our Master, why should we continue to follow him? Can a Lord who is not really divine demand such radical obedience of us? The root of our frustration in following Christ is not that he no longer fascinates his followers. Rather it is that we do not always stay with him, in the dark moments and in the moments of glory. We continue to be concerned with our own affairs and our own world, instead of being truly preoccupied with his world and his affairs. Let us remain close to him so that, whenever he chooses, he can show us who he really is. It will be worth the effort and the time of waiting.
you bid us listen to your Son, the well-beloved.
Nourish our hearts on your word,
purify the eyes of our mind,
and fill us with joy at the vision of your glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
“The big picture becomes clear”
by Michael O’Sullivan
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