The Transfiguration of the Lord, August 6th
Matthew 17: 1-9
After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,*then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
- Deepening your faith is a lifelong process. As you reflect on your experience of faith development over time, can you identify different stages and insights you’ve gained? Explain.
- “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” How do you go about listening to Jesus? Can you give specific examples of how holy listening happens with you?
- How has Jesus helped free you from self-centeredness, and fear? What changes have taken place in you?
- As he did with Peter, James and John, Jesus is always minimizing the miracle, and pointing us “down the mountain” to accept the realities of life and true discipleship. How do you experience God’s presence in the midst of real-life issues you are facing right now?
Matthew 17: 1-9
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
Mark’s, Matthew’s, and Luke’s accounts of the Transfiguration are very similar both in the stories themselves and in the placement of the stories in the Gospels as a whole. In all three Gospels Jesus has just given the disciples the first prediction of his coming passion and told them the conditions for discipleship. Each Gospel writer tells us that it was some days after that (six in Mark and Matthew, eight in Luke) that the Transfiguration occurred.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a mountain. Mark and Matthew tell us that they withdrew to pray. A mountain is very often the setting for an encounter with God. While on the mountain Jesus is transfigured before them. Each Gospel writer tells us that Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white. Matthew adds that “his face shone like the sun.” White garments are the traditional dress of heavenly beings.
The three disciples suddenly see that Moses and Elijah have joined them. Matthew and Mark tell us that Moses and Elijah are conversing with Jesus. Luke tells us what they are conversing about: they “spoke of his [Jesus’] exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” This is, of course, a reference to Jesus’ coming death, a death that Jesus has warned the disciples is inevitable. The word exodus is laden with meaning. The exodus from Egypt was not a time of defeat but a time when the people experienced God’s saving power. Moses and Elijah are evidently talking with Jesus about his own death in similar terms because Jesus’ exodus is something that he is going to accomplish. Jesus’ death, too, will not be a defeat but an accomplishment.
Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets, the source, up until then, of revelation and wisdom for the people. Jesus, as a Jewish teacher, taught in fidelity to his own religious tradition. However, those who considered themselves experts on the law and the prophets often found themselves in disagreement with Jesus because they were legalists and Jesus was not. All three Gospels report this disagreement. Matthew tells us that Jesus addressed it directly by saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17).
The tension between Jesus and those strict interpreters of the law and the prophets is an important context for understanding the story of the Transfiguration. Peter, on seeing Moses and Elijah, suggests that he set up three tents, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. A person who is going to stay to dwell with the people needs a tent. To put up three tents implies that Moses, Elijah, and Jesus are three teachers who will continue to dwell with the people.
Just as Peter makes this suggestion a cloud overshadows them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (In Matthew, after saying, “This is my beloved Son,” the voice also says, “with whom I am well pleased,” an allusion to the Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism [Matt 3:1].) As we read the words spoken by the voice from the cloud (God), we should put the emphasis on “him.” “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” After the voice says these words “they saw no one else but Jesus alone.” Jesus fulfills both the Jaw and the prophets. Moses and Elijah won’t need tents. The disciples are to listen to Jesus.
In Matthew and Mark Jesus charges the disciples “not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had J at that time tell anyone what they had seen.” Why does Jesus charge the disciples to remain silent? Remember that when Jesus warned the disciples of his coming death none of them could understand what he meant. Peter had even remonstrated with him. Jesus is telling the disciples not to talk about what they do not yet themselves understand. Mark makes it clear that the disciples did not understand; he says, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.” Only after the resurrection will the disciples understand that Jesus is a divine person. Only after the resurrection will they understand the meaning of the Transfiguration and why it is Jesus to whom they should listen.
In Torrents of Light
By Michelle Francl-Donnay
For a fleeting moment the heavens open, and God’s glory spills forth. Time itself gives way, the ancient prophets Moses and Elijah come to converse with Jesus. Hearing this account two millennia later, I feel as if the entirety of the Gospels has collapsed into this one moment in time, fragments of encounters swirling in torrents of light.
Hovering behind Peter’s wild desire to hold on to the moment, I see Jesus in a garden gently telling Mary Magdalene not to cling to him. Listen to my Son, says a voice from a cloud, and I see spit and mud and a deaf man who can suddenly hear and be heard. Ephphatha! Be opened! Rise, says Jesus, and Peter comes to him across the water, a paralyzed man rolls up his mat, and a young girl gets up from her death bed. And always, do not be afraid. Resounding over and over. On a storm-wracked sea. To a worried father. To his disciples gathered for one last meal. To the multitudes. To all of us. I wonder what the conversation was as Jesus walked Peter, James, and John down the mountain. Or perhaps I don’t, for all these Gospel stories end the same way.
We want to cling to the God of glory, to fall at the feet of the divine. Instead, Jesus reaches for us in the dust and says, get up. Be opened, that you might hear my voice, that you might be my voice. And above all, do not fear. Walk with me and be transfigured. Walk with me and transfigure the world.
Reflection from Give Us This Day
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a wife and mother, a professor of chemistry, and an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory. She is author of Prayer: Biblical Wisdom for Seeking God in the Little Rock Scripture Study Alive in the Word series. Her website is michellefrancldonnay.com.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc