Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Lesson of the Transfiguration

In today’s Gospel (Second Sunday of Lent – Year B), we read St. Mark’s account of the Transfiguration:
Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
"Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant. (Mk 9:2-10)

A significant point about the Transfiguration is the fact that Jesus told His disciples not to tell anyone about what they had see until after He had risen from the dead. Why would Jesus give such a peculiar instruction when He clearly intended for Sts. Peter, James, and John to experience this momentous and glorious occasion?
To understand this, we need to understand a bit of the context.
Six days prior to this, after Peter had affirmed that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus began to teach them that He was going to suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders. Peter rebuked the Lord for thinking such a thing saying that it would never happen. It was in the context of this doubt and unwillingness to believe that Jesus must be killed that the Transfiguration took place.
And so, Jesus took the three disciples up Mt Tabor with Him and revealed to them His glory. This showed them that He truly was who He said He was. Then an interesting thing happened. Moses and Elijah appeared and began to talk to Jesus. About what? St. Luke tell us that they were speaking to Him about His pending death in Jerusalem (see Lk 9:31) – the same death that He Himself had been teaching them about; the same death that the disciples were so sceptical about.
The fact that it was Moses and Elijah is significant because they embodied all the teachings that the disciples, as faithful Jews, held as true and authoritative i.e. Moses represented the Law, and Elijah the Prophets.  
But then something of even greater importance takes place. The mountain becomes engulfed in a cloud, and a voice from Heaven declares: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to Him!” Suddenly, the vision disappears and the disciples are left alone with Jesus in His normal human state, with His glory veiled once again.
What just happened here? Remember, prior to the Transfiguration, the disciples were disbelieving of Jesus’ teaching that He would undergo suffering and death in Jerusalem. Upon hearing Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus of His impending death, it is likely that they would have been more receptive to Jesus’ words because they held Moses and Elijah in a high and authoritative regard. But God removes Moses and Elijah from their sight and leaves them Jesus. This was to show them that as much as they were prepared to listen to the authoritative teachings of Moses and Elijah, Jesus was the fulfilment of all that the Law and the Prophets taught. Even more so, Jesus was greater than Moses and Elijah. Which is why God says: “This is my Son – listen to HIM!” In other words, it is as if God is saying: “You were prepared to listen to Moses and Elijah? Great! Now, here is my Son, the One whom Moses and Elijah prophesied of. Here is my Son, who is greater than Moses and Elijah. You were prepared to listen to Moses and Elijah? Great! Now, listen to my Son!”
Jesus purpose for taking the disciples up on the Mount of Transfiguration was so that they could overcome their doubt and believe what He was telling them about His mission to go and suffer and die in Jerusalem. This is probably why Jesus also told them not to blaze this miraculous event all over the place until after His Resurrection. To do so could have an endangering effect on His mission.
I think that the way this passage concludes shows that Jesus’ intention had its desired effect. Notice that once they had come down from the mountain, the disciples were no longer questioning or disputing Jesus’ teaching that He was going to suffer and die. Now their focus shifted to what Jesus meant by His “rising from the dead”. For the answer to this question, the disciples would have to wait until that magnificent Easter Sunday morning when Jesus would rise gloriously from the grave to claim His victory over sin and death.

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