A reflection on the Scripture Readings for August 6, 2023 — the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The audio version will be available at this link.

I was in conversation with a friend about life. We are both facing life-challenges. Somewhere in the conversation, I said, “Sometimes, life does not offer us choices.” Perhaps you have experienced this yourself. Those who get diagnosed with terminal illness, for example, or when we lose a loved one, or when an accident changes the course of our lives – life does not offer us choices. All we can do is face the reality and pray for strength and grace.

The Transfiguration was a powerful, awe filled, and life-transforming event for disciples. But was the Transfiguration one of those events where life did or did not offer a choice to the disciples? What did the Transfiguration of Jesus mean for Peter, James, and John? What does the Transfiguration mean for us?

Today, in the firsts two points I would like to do an exegesis of Matthew’s Transfiguration narrative to draw out its deeper meaning. In my third point, I will also offer some practical implications.

The Timeline of the Transfiguration

Matthew opens his composition of the event with, “After six days.” Matthew was being intentional when he provided this timeline. There is an allusion here to God’s revelation on Mount Sinai where a cloud covered the mountain for six days, and on the seventh day God called to Moses from the midst of the clouds (Ex 24:16).

In real life, though, there is another timeline. The Transfiguration happened as Jesus and the disciples were making their way up to Jerusalem. The journey to Jerusalem meant that Jesus’ life and ministry were heading toward the climax – the resurrection. But to get to the resurrection, he would have to go down the mountain, take up the cross, endure suffering, face death.

The timeline that Matthew provides is significant both from Jesus’ perspective and the perspective of the disciples. From Jesus’ perspective, just before his death, he was being revealed (like God to Moses on Mount Sinai) as a continuation of God’s saving work along with Moses and Elijah. The voice from the cloud (just like on Mount Sinai) said, “This is my beloved Son… Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). From the disciples’ perspective, their will have to continue the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. Their timeline would have to merge with Jesus’ timeline. They must “Listen to Him.” Listening to him did not just mean merely building a tent and staying on the top of the mountain. It meant that the disciples must go down the mountain with Jesus and literally follow Jesus as he embraced his suffering and death.

Here and now, in this time and moment, the disciples’ found themselves in the midst of a very life-transforming experience. Here and now, in this time and moment, life presented to the disciples a choice… or not.

The Nature of the Transfiguration

Now that we have understood the timeline of the Transfiguration, let us understand the nature of the event. In verse 17:9 which concludes the Transfiguration narrative, Matthew calls it a “vision.” Scripture scholars call it an apocalyptic vision. Apocalyptic visions are connected to persecution, suffering, and death. An apocalyptic vision gives the suffering visionaries a glimpse into their future glory. This is clear in today’s first reading from Daniel. During a time of persecution, Daniel is granted an apocalyptic vision of what goes on in the heavens and what will happen in the future (Dan 7:9-10, 13-14).

The Transfiguration is best understood as an apocalyptic vision. At the Transfiguration the disciples, just like Daniel, are given a vision of who Jesus really is (“This is my beloved Son”), and what he will be in God’s kingdom in the future. It was important that the disciples have an insight into Jesus’ identity and his future destiny because soon, Jesus would be persecuted. He would go down the mountain and embrace his fate. When this happens the disciples must remember who Jesus is and the future glory that awaits him. They must remember Moses, and Elijah and the voice that said, “This is my beloved Son.”

Understanding the Transfiguration as an apocalyptic vision balances Jesus’ imminent persecution, suffering, and death with the glory that awaits him.

The Implications of the Transfiguration

It is time to draw the practical implications of the Transfiguration for us.

First, as an apocalyptic vision, the Transfiguration confirmed for Jesus and the disciples Jesus’ identity and the future glory that awaited him. Knowing his identity and future glory, we see Jesus going down the mountain and embracing human life in its totality – suffering, questions, challenges, crises, and all. He does not run away from life. Rather, he embraces it in obedience to God’s will and for human redemption. After the resurrection, the disciples did the same.

For us too, life is a complex and complicated reality. Sometimes life offers us choices and sometimes it does not. As we face life, like Jesus, we know that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters. We know our future glory. Knowing who we are and the glory that awaits us we too must embrace life like Jesus did – suffering, questions, challenges, crises, and all. We do not run away from life but embrace it in all its complexity.

Second, we remember from the timeline that Transfiguration happened as Jesus and his disciples made their way to Jerusalem. The timeline revealed to the disciples that they would have to merge their timeline with God’s timeline. Often, I have found myself in the same place as the disciples. Often, life does put us at crossroads. In these times, the best place is to find ourselves is on the top of the mountain with Jesus.

Today, I want to propose to you that it is the Eucharist where Jesus and our life comes together. Here is our mountain of Transfiguration. Each Sunday is our Transfiguration Day. Here we bring life and face it with Jesus. Here our life mingles with God’s life. Here our timeline merges with God’s timeline. Here we enter into Communion – God with us and we with God. And then, with Jesus we go down the mountain and face life for another week. We do this while on earth, until one day, our lives will become totally one with God and share in our future glory.

Let me end with where I began. Life may not offer us choices, but God makes a choice to show us the face of Jesus. Life may not offer us choices, but we do have the choice to let our life become one with God’s and God’s with us. Amen.

Image by Paul Wellauer from Pixabay

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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.

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