Gospel Reflection – The Transfiguration

Mother Tori’s reflection on this week’s Gospel for morning prayer: Matthew 17:1-9

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 

Days after Jesus shares with His disciples His imminent suffering, death and resurrection, He takes with Him some of His earliest disciples with whom He has a very close relationship, and ascends a nearby mountain. The ascent of a mountain reminds us of times in Scripture when God has been encountered on a mountain – Abraham taking Isaac as a faithful sacrifice to God as recorded in Genesis 22, Moses on Mt. Sinai encountering God and receiving God’s Covenant with His people (Exodus 24), Elijah encountering God in sheer silence in 1Kings 19, and of course Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Mountains represent holy places where God may be encountered. 

When Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with Him up a mountain, we may anticipate that God will be encountered in a profound way. Jesus is transformed right in front of the disciples with radiant light making His face to shine like the sun and His clothes to become a brilliant white.

Then two of the greatest prophets, Moses and Elijah, appear with Him. Moses was a significant prophet and liberator of God’s chosen people with the tradition that he died and was buried by God’s own hands.  Elijah shared the spirit of prophecy with his son, Elisha, and then was carried into heaven in a chariot of fire. When these two great people appear with Jesus we expect that there is a new divine age dawning.  

The disciples experienced the moment of transition to see with their own eyes their Lord standing with the great ones of their tradition. So Peter offered the most hospitality he could imagine – to build tents for them to reside in. These tents also then would serve as places where the other disciples and people of God could come to encounter the holy! While Peter was still presenting his offer to Jesus, the voice of God breaks in from heaven with the same words used at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” And then the voice adds, “Listen to Him!” It is really no surprise to us to hear that the disciples were terrified and fell facedown to the ground. 

But Jesus, alone and not glowing radiantly, touches the disciples. A very ordinary and gentle gesture of comfort, assurance, and connection. Jesus is real, non-threatening, and cares deeply about His beloved disciples. He tells them not to cower but to get up. He tells them not to be afraid. 

It’s time to go back down the mountain. But how can Peter, James, and John go back to the regular life happening below? How can they explain what they’ve encountered?  And then Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they’ve seen until after Jesus has been raised from the dead.

  • Do we ever go to places where it is likely that we may encounter God?  
  • Have we ever encountered Jesus’ radiance? If so, how has it changed us?
  • What is the new divine age that dawned with Jesus Christ? Where do we fit into that today?
  • What are the tents that we propose making for God today? Why do we want to make them?
  • How can we share with others our experience of knowing God in Holy Communion?

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