August 2, 2023 at 9:25 a.m.
The Transfiguration of the Lord
This story invites us to consider our call to discipleship.
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Have you ever experienced a mountaintop view? Perhaps you climbed the peak or maybe drove up the road to the top. When you reached the summit and immersed yourself in the view, there were acclamations of awe and wonder — oohs and ahhs. A mountaintop expanse is majestic!
Jesus calls Peter, James and John to this experience. They climb up Mt. Tabor which is challenging and steep. A taxi ride today is harrowing — ascending around 23 hairpin turns! Jesus and the apostles would have had to climb and maybe they would have been breathless at the top. But that was only the beginning of breathtaking experiences! The three apostles saw Jesus in all his majesty; the earthly veil was pulled back and he was resplendent in glory — “his face, dazzling as the sun, his clothes bright as light.” Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah, men who had their own mountaintop experiences of God’s numinous presence. Men who symbolized the Law and the Prophets, the two great pillars of the Jewish faith, the faith that some feared Jesus was undermining.
But why did Jesus have to insist on an arduous climb to reveal himself like this? Certainly, Jesus was not a showman; he had refused early in his ministry to “Wow” the people with feats.
It is helpful to consider what happened before this story. Jesus had been engaged in serious debates with the religious leaders. They wanted a sign, which he did not give them. This increases tension between them. Then Jesus checks in with the disciples asking them, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the Living God. Jesus praises Peter’s insight. And then Jesus predicts his coming passion and death. No, Peter insists, this is not the way things are supposed to go for the Messiah. Jesus knows that the disciples have much more to learn. The Transfiguration is part of a powerful teaching — Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the Living God, and the Messiah has great majesty and power just not the kind people were expecting. His power is that of loving service, compassionate presence and care for the outcast, the sinner and the lowly ones. The Reign of God is the reign of the Beatitudes — the fruition of the Law and Justice, the consummation of the prophetic message. Jesus invites the three apostles into the mystical meaning of discipleship: listening to the voice of the Holy One, being immersed in the Scriptures and serving the neighbor in need. The mountaintop experience bolsters their faith in the face of the coming trials; it gives them hope that Jesus will usher in this Reign of God which is assured in the resurrection.
In the meantime, the apostles and Jesus must come down the mountain. Their first encounter is with a distraught father whose demon-possessed child needs healing. Mountaintop experiences can strengthen faith and hope; then there is the day-to-day world to deal with.
This story of the Transfiguration invites us to consider our call to discipleship. Jesus offers us loving encounters in prayer, the sacraments, scripture reflection and quiet time perhaps in a beautiful, natural place. He wants to walk with us closely in all the moments of life — arduous and joyous. He calls us to share the fruit of these encounters in compassionate service when we come down the mountain.
In the Second Reading, St. Peter captures this opportunity for transformation in Christ when he proclaims that he has been an eyewitness to Jesus’ majesty, he has listened intently to the Holy One’s voice, he has received the “prophetic message that is altogether reliable.” Peter tells us to be attentive to this message as we would to a bright light shining in a dark place. This message is like a new day dawning and the morning star, who is the Christ rising in our hearts with joy and hope!