August 6, 2017
The Transfiguration of Jesus, which we celebrate this Sunday, is a very strange and mysterious event. The Apostles (Peter, James and John) seem to be in some kind of a dream state, confused and awe-stricken by what they see and hear. We might ask ourselves if this was some kind of mystical vision that was collectively given to them, or did the Transfiguration actually happen in time and space? It would certainly seem that it was an actual event, with very mystical tones.
The Apostles are at a very critical moment in their following of Christ. They are on the way to Jerusalem, and Jesus has just begun to speak clearly about what will happen there. He has told them that he will be arrested, beaten and killed. This is a crisis for them, because the belief was that the Messiah could not die but would live forever. He was to be a great military and political leader who would become King of Israel and would rule the world from Jerusalem. Now Jesus is telling them he would die—a sure sign for them that he was not the Messiah.
They are distraught. Their faith in Jesus is deeply shaken. Perhaps they have backed the wrong guy, and he is not who they have presumed him to be. If he will die in Jerusalem, what about them? What will their fate be? Perhaps they would be willing to die for him and with him if he is the Messiah, but no one wants to simply throw their life away on a lost and false cause. Should they go back home and abandon him?
It is in the midst of this crisis that Jesus is transfigured on Mount Tabor, showing the glory that was his before his Incarnation, and that will be his again when he is resurrected. He is joined by Moses, the great Lawgiver, and Elijah, the Prophet. The Jews referred to what we call the Old Testament as the Law and the Prophets. Their presence with Jesus assures the Apostles that he is the one who was prophesized and that they can trust him. Finally, there is a great cloud (recalling the cloud that contained God’s presence which led the Hebrews through the desert), from which comes the voice of God, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
As the Transfiguration of the Lord gave comfort and encouragement to Peter and the others, so their witness to the Transfiguration is intended to give comfort and encouragement to us when we experience doubt and uncertainty. In our second reading, Saint Peter himself testifies to what he saw on the mountain that day.
Even though the Apostles had experienced the Transfiguration of Jesus, they still faltered when the Passion began. But all three of them, recalling this amazing event, pulled themselves together and recommitted themselves to following and serving Christ. We may falter and fall as well, but sustained by the witness and example of the Apostles, we get up and move forward.
Fr. Mike Comer