the-transfigured-word

Carlos Caso-Rosendi

2 Timothy 1:8-10 – Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God,  who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Matthew 17:1-9 – Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 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.’ 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!’  When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.  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.’

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Mount Tabor on the plains of Galilee

Called to a mystery

Jesus “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” This is one of those phrases of St Paul that can be understood completely at first glance. Christians are called not because they are better than others but simply because God, in a completely inscrutable act, selects men and women for a mysterious purpose that unfolds in history. We climb on the barque of Peter and all we know is that we are going “where Jesus goes” without any map for our personal road but sure of our final destination, Heaven, the “other side” of the sea of time.

Peter, John, and James are called early one morning to follow Jesus to some unknown destiny. I imagine Jesus woke them up when it was still dark and left with them while everyone slept. They are in Jesus’ familiar territory, the “other side” of the Sea of Galilee and soon the disciples realize they are going to ascend the mountain. Mount Tabor[1] rises at the eastern end of the valley of Jezreel. It is the only elevation there and once at the summit one has a 360-degree view of the whole region. It is a good place to present us with a metaphor of Heaven.

The disciples are Peter, the oldest; John, the youngest; James who was going to be the first of the twelve to die for the faith. The men chosen to follow Jesus that morning represent the whole Church: the old, the young, and the martyrs of all the ages. Those disciples had been with Jesus in one other occasion when a young maid was brought back from the dead: “He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.” (Mark 5:37) The girl was the daughter of Jairus “one of the leaders of the synagogue” who is instructed to keep silent about the miracle in the same fashion the disciples at Mount Tabor were instructed not to tell anyone about the Transfiguration “until the Son of Man is resurrected from the dead.” So here the choice of the same three disciples and the requirement for discretion seem to be the connection between both events. One is a resurrection that has to remain secret and the other is a secret that has to be kept until after the Resurrection. The divine counterpoints appear again to tease our interest in this extraordinary affair.

Jesus is transfigured before them. The three ordinary men are granted a vision of the Heavenly life of Jesus just as they were granted to witness an extraordinary resurrection before. In the first part of the vision Moses and Elijah are visible with the Teacher. How many times had Jesus mentioned that “the Law and the Prophets” spoke about him and his day! Moses the one who brought the Law to Israel was there, next to Jesus was also Elijah the greatest of the Prophets of Israel, one of the few men who did not experience death but was taken up to Heaven in a supernatural rapture. The image presents Jesus in the pure light of the ancient Scriptures.

Then a cloud envelops the scene and the voice of God is heard saying: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” The cloud is an apt representation of the Holy Spirit that conceals and reveals at the same time. The voice of God is like a thunder that resonates full of awesome power penetrating our souls. The disciples hear that voice and fall to the ground. That is the normal human reaction before the numinous. We can only imagine how the entire human race will react to hearing the divine Word when the last day arrives.

I believe we are all called to participate of the Transfiguration as Paul explains to Timothy: “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” We can rise from the plain careless reading of the Scriptures and read it with awe, begging for the light of the Transfigured Jesus to guide us. We can ask Jesus to take us with him to the top of the mountain and see him as the fulfilled meaning of all things: the Torah and the Tanakh, the Law and the Prophets.

One thing that is not mentioned but understood in this passage: the peace of Heaven. If you can imagine the greatest drug ever devised to combat pain, anger, anxiety, and all the ill feelings that plague the human heart, you will still not even come close to the peace of Heaven, a peace so complete that becomes one with the human soul, the perfect consolation, the innermost absolute confirmation of the love of God for his creation. Peter experienced that for a moment but lost it like so many fish had slipped off his hands while working at sea. He wants to keep what he can: “Lord, bring back Moses and Elijah, I will build accommodations! Just let me feel that for the rest of my life!”

The Transfiguration is a good representation of the consolation we can find in studying the Scriptures in the company of the Holy Trinity. Our faithful these days are seriously lacking even the most basic comprehension of the words that are read to them at Mass (if and when they attend Mass.) We can however converse with Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, John, and James and see the Lord transfigured before our very eyes when we pray the Scriptures. Once we “catch the bug” it turns into a delightful habit filling our souls with light.

Allow me to invite you: let us go with the Teacher up the mountain of light, above the plains, a little closer to Heaven.


[1] Hebrew: הר תבור,  meaning “light”. Modern Hebrew Har Tavor, Tiberian Har Tāḇôr, Ṭūr Latin: Itabyrium, Koine Greek: Όρος Θαβώρ located in Lower Galilee, Israel, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.

Please remember to pray three Hail Marys for this ministry’s intentions.

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