The Transfiguration of the Lord, August 6th

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.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Faith development is a lifelong process. When you reflect on your own process of faith development can you identify different stages and some of the insights you’ve gained?
  2. How do you go about listening to Jesus? Can you give specific examples?
  3. What effect has Jesus had in transforming you from narrowness and self-absorption? What changes have taken place in you?
  4. As he did with Peter, James and John, Jesus is always pointing us “down the mountain” toward the realities of life and true discipleship. Do you struggle to find balance between worshipping Jesus for what he did for us, versus following in his footsteps?

Biblical Context

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.

Fasten Your Seatbelts

By Ted Wolgamot

In Scripture, astonishing things happen on mountains. When the Bible tells us that someone is going “up a mountain,” it’s time to fasten your seatbelt. Right away you know something completely out of the ordinary, something special and sacred is about to take place. And, that’s just what happens in today’s Gospel reading.

Until this mountaintop moment in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is presented as someone who is exceptional, even remarkable. But, he is also seen as human — a man who amazed people with his miracles and his teachings, but was still in many ways just like you and me.

But then, out of nowhere, we are told that when Jesus reaches the top of the mountain with Peter, John and James, “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” And, we know now that we have left the humdrum ordinary and entered an experience that can only be described as transcendent. We have entered the realm of the holy.

On the mountaintop, we are introduced to two of the most eminent of all Hebrew Scripture heroes: Moses and Elijah. Until this experience, Jesus’ disciples treated him as an equal of these great prophets of the ages. But, then a cloud comes over the disciples and a “voice” from the cloud says: “This is my beloved Son … listen to him.” What the disciples — and you and I — are being clearly told is that Jesus is more than a prophet, more than a wonder worker, more than any other holy person who ever existed — more than even Moses and Elijah.

Jesus, we are told by this voice, is unique in all human history, transcending all those who have gone before. He alone is God’s Son! Then, out of the cloud, comes the only directive that the voice from heaven gives. Notice that it is not “worship him.” It is not “adore him.” It is not even “praise him.” Instead, it is a much more intimate, caring command: “Listen to him.”

Follow him and allow the experience to transform our hearts, to bring about a transplant of the Spirit. This heavenly voice isn’t just informing us that Jesus is God’s Son to give us information. The voice is encouraging us to understand and live out the message that we are all God’s sons and daughters. Despite some terrible sorrows and considerable pain that we may have to endure, we can now trust that, in the end, all will be well.

This experience is reminiscent of a 1970s movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” in which Richard Dreyfus plays an everyday man who becomes strangely attracted to an isolated area in the Wyoming wilderness. He is convinced that something spectacular is about to happen there. And, in the last 30 minutes of the movie, something truly spectacular does occur: An enormous space ship hovers over this region.

People witnessing it are dumbstruck and terrified, like the disciples in today’s Gospel.

Who’s in the spaceship? Are they beings who have come to destroy us? As the spaceship door opens, strange and elongated figures emerge, figures appearing to emanate benevolence and kindness. Dreyfus, in a sense, is “transfigured” by this experience. He is so captivated by it, in fact, that he abandons everything of which he is certain for something he knows nothing about. As the movie draws to a close, he runs to the light emanating from the spaceship. Can we do this when we hear today’s voice?

Listen. And then follow — into the Light.

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