And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.
About a week after His sojourn in Cæsarea Philippi, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them to a high mountain apart, where He was transfigured before their ravished eyes. St. Matthew and St. Mark express this phenomenon by the word metemorphothe, which the Vulgate renders transfiguratus est. The Synoptics explain the true meaning of the word by adding “his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow,” according to the Vulgate, or “as light,” according to the Greek text.
This dazzling brightness which emanated from His whole Body was produced by an interior shining of His Divinity. False Judaism had rejected the Messias, and now true Judaism, represented by Moses and Elias, the Law and the Prophets, recognized and adored Him, while for the second time God the Father proclaimed Him His only-begotten and well-loved Son. By this glorious manifestation the Divine Master, who had just foretold His Passion to the Apostles (Matthew 16:21), and who spoke with Moses and Elias of the trials which awaited Him at Jerusalem, strengthened the faith of his three friends and prepared them for the terrible struggle of which they were to be witnesses in Gethsemani, by giving them a foretaste of the glory and heavenly delights to which we attain by suffering.
Sunday, February 24, 2013 – 10
The Transfiguration of Jesus
A new way of fulfilling the prophecies
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
A few days earlier, Jesus had said that he, the Son of Man, had to be tried and crucified by the authorities (Lk 9:22; Mk 8:31). According to the information in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, the disciples, especially Peter, did not understand what Jesus had said and were scandalised by the news (Mt 16:22; Mk 8:32). Jesus reacted strongly and turned to Peter calling him Satan (Mt 16:23; Mk 8:33). This was because Jesus’ words did not correspond with the ideal of the glorious Messiah whom they imagined. Luke does not mention Peter’s reaction and Jesus’ strong reply, but he does describe, as do the other Evangelists, the episode of the Transfiguration. Luke sees the Transfiguration as an aid to the disciples so that they may be able to overcome the scandal and change their idea of the Messiah (Lk 9:28-36). Taking with him the three disciples, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and, while he is praying, is transfigured. As we read the text, it is good to note what follows: “Who appears with Jesus on the mountain to converse with him? What is the theme of their conversation? What is the disciples’ attitude?”
b) A division of the text as an aid to the reading:
i) Luke 9:28: The moment of crisis
ii) Luke 9:29: The change that takes place during the prayer
iii) Luke 9:30-31: The appearance of the two men and their conversation with Jesus
iv) Luke 9:32-34: The disciples’ reaction
v) Luke 9:35-36: The Father’s voice
c) The text:
28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said. 34 As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What pleased you most in this episode of the Transfiguration? Why?
b) Who are those who go to the mountain with Jesus? Why do they go?
c) Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain next to Jesus. What is the significance of these two persons from the Old Testament for Jesus, for the disciples for the community in the 80s? And for us today?
d) Which prophecy from the Old Testament is fulfilled in the words of the Father concerning Jesus?
e) What is the attitude of the disciples during this episode?
f) Has there been a transfiguration in your life? How have such experiences of transfiguration helped you to fulfil your mission better?
g) Compare Luke’s description of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Lk 9:28-36) with his description of the agony of Jesus in the Garden (Lk 22:39-46). Try to see whether there are any similarities. What is the significance of these similarities?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the theme.
a) The context of Jesus’ discourse:
In the two previous chapters of Luke’s Gospel, the innovation brought by Jesus stands out and tensions between the New and the Old grow. In the end, Jesus realised that no one had understood his meaning and much less his person. People thought that he was like John the Baptist, Elijah or some old prophet (Lk 9:18-19). The disciples accepted him as the Messiah, but a glorious Messiah, according to the propaganda issued by the government and the official religion of the Temple (Lk 9:20-21). Jesus tried to explain to his disciples that the journey foreseen by the prophets was one of suffering because of its commitment to the excluded and that a disciple could only be a disciple if he/she took up his/her cross (Lk 9:22-26). But he did not meet with much success. It is in such a context of crisis that the Transfiguration takes place.
In the 30s, the experience of the Transfiguration had a very important significance in the life of Jesus and of the disciples. It helped them overcome the crisis of faith and to change their ideals concerning the Messiah. In the 80s, when Luke was writing for the Christian communities in Greece, the meaning of the Transfiguration had already been deepened and broadened. In the light of Jesus’ resurrection and of the spread of the Good News among the pagans in almost every country, from Palestine to Italy, the experience of the Transfiguration began to be seen as a confirmation of the faith of the Christian communities in Jesus, Son of God. The two meanings are present in the description and interpretation of the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel.
b) A commentary on the text:
Luke 9:28: The moment of crisis
On several occasions Jesus entered into conflict with the people and the religious and civil authorities of his time (Lk 4:28-29; 5:21-20; 6:2-11; 7:30.39; 8:37; 9,9). He knew they would not allow him to do the things he did. Sooner or later they would catch him. Besides, in that society, the proclamation of the Kingdom, as Jesus did, was not to be tolerated. He either had to withdraw or face death! There were no other alternatives. Jesus did not withdraw. Hence the cross appears on the horizon, not just as a possibility but as a certainty (Lk 9:22). Together with the cross there appears also the temptation to go on with the idea of the Glorious Messiah and not of the Crucified, suffering servant, announced by the Prophet Isaiah (Mk 8:32-33). At this difficult moment Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, taking with him Peter, James and John. Through his prayer, Jesus seeks strength not to lose sense of direction in his mission (cf. Mk 1:35).
Luke 9:29: The change that takes place during the prayer
As soon as Jesus starts praying, his appearance changes and he appears glorious. His face changes and his clothes become white and shining. It is the glory that the disciples imagined for the Messiah. This transformation told them clearly that Jesus was indeed the Messiah expected by all. But what follows the episode of the Transfiguration will point out that the way to glory is quite different from what they imagined. The transfiguration will be a call to conversion.
Luke 9:30-31: Two men appear speaking with Jesus
Together with Jesus and in the same glorious state there appear Moses and Elijah, the two major exponents of the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets. They speak with Jesus about “the Exodus brought to fulfilment in Jerusalem”. Thus, in front of the disciples, the Law and the Prophets confirm that Jesus is truly the glorious Messiah, promised in the Old Testament and awaited by the whole people. They further confirm that the way to Glory is through the painful way of the exodus. Jesus’ exodus is his passion, death and resurrection. Through his “exodus” Jesus breaks the dominion of the false idea concerning the Messiah spread by the government and by the official religion and that held all ensnared in the vision of a glorious, nationalistic messiah. The experience of the Transfiguration confirmed that Jesus as Messiah Servant constituted an aid to free them from their wrong ideas concerning the Messiah and to discover the real meaning of the Kingdom of God.
Luke 9:32-34: The disciples’ reaction
The disciples were in deep sleep. When they woke up, the saw Jesus in his glory and the two men with him. But Peter’s reaction shows that they were not aware of the real meaning of the glory in which Jesus appeared to them. As often happens with us, they were only aware of what concerned them. The rest escapes their attention. “Master, it is good for us to be here!” And they do not want to get off the mountain any more! When it is question of the cross, whether on the Mount of the Transfiguration or on the Mount of Olives (Lk 22:45), they sleep! They prefer the Glory to the Cross! They do not like to speak or hear of the cross. They want to make sure of the moment of glory on the mountain, and they offer to build three tents. Peter did not know what he was saying.
While Peter was speaking, a cloud descended from on high and covered them with its shadow. Luke says that the disciples became afraid when the cloud enfolded them. The cloud is the symbol of the presence of God. The cloud accompanied the multitude on their journey through the desert (Ex 40: 34-38; Nm 10:11-12). When Jesus ascended into heaven, he was covered by a cloud and they no longer saw him (Acts 1:9). This was a sign that Jesus had entered forever into God’s world.
Luke 9:35-36: The Father’s voice
A voice is heard from the cloud that says: “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him”. With this same sentence the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed the Messiah-Servant (Is 42:1). First Moses and Elijah, now God himself presents Jesus as the Messiah-Servant who will come to glory through the cross. The voice ends with a final admonition: “Listen to him!” As the heavenly voice speaks, Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus is left. This signifies that from now on only He will interpret the Scriptures and the will of God. He is the Word of God for the disciples: “Listen to him!”
The proclamation “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him” was very important for the community of the late 80s. Through this assertion God the Father confirmed the faith of Christians in Jesus as Son of God. In Jesus’ time, that is, in the 30s, the expression Son of Man pointed to a very high dignity and mission. Jesus himself gave a relative meaning to the term by saying that all were children of God (cf. John 10:33-35). But for some the title Son of God became a resume of all titles, over one hundred that the first Christians gave Jesus in the second half of the first century. In succeeding centuries, it was the title of Son of God that the Church concentrated all its faith in the person of Jesus.
c) A deepening:
i) The Transfiguration is told in three of the Gospels: Matthew (Mt 17:1-9), Mark (Mk 9:2-8) and Luke (Lk 9:28-36). This is a sign that this episode contained a very important message. As we said, it was a matter of great help to Jesus, to his disciples and to the first communities. It confirmed Jesus in his mission as Messiah-Servant. It helped the disciples to overcome the crisis that the cross and suffering caused them. It led the communities to deepen their faith in Jesus, Son of God, the One who revealed the Father and who became the new key to the interpretation of the Law and the Prophets. The Transfiguration continues to be of help in overcoming the crisis that the cross and suffering provoke today. The three sleeping disciples are a reflection of all of us. The voice of the Father is directed to us as it was to them: “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him!”
ii) In Luke’s Gospel there is a great similarity between the scene of the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36) and the scene of the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Olives (Lk 22:39-46). We may note the following: in both scenes Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and takes with him three disciples, Peter, James and John. On both occasions, Jesus’ appearance is transformed and he is transfigured before them; glorious at the Transfiguration, perspiring blood in the Garden of Olives. Both times heavenly figures appear to comfort him, Moses and Elijah and an angel from heaven. Both in the Transfiguration and in the Agony, the disciples sleep, they seem to be outside the event and they seem not to understand anything. At the end of both episodes, Jesus is reunited with his disciples. Doubtless, Luke intended to emphasise the resemblance between these two episodes. What would that be? It is in meditating and praying that we shall succeed in understanding the meaning that goes beyond words, and to perceive the intention of the author. The Holy Spirit will guide us.
iii) Luke describes the Transfiguration. There are times in our life when suffering is such that we might think: “God has abandoned me! He is no longer with me!” And then suddenly we realise that He has never deserted us, but that we had our eyes bandaged and were not aware of the presence of God. Then everything is changed and transfigured. It is the transfiguration! This happens every day in our lives.
6. Psalm 42 (41)
“My soul thirsts for the living God!”
As a hart longs for flowing streams,
so longs my soul for thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me,
therefore I remember thee from the land of Jordan
and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts;
all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love;
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
“Why hast thou forgotten me?
Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.