Gospel according to Matthew (17:1-9)
JESUS took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured-before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The Transfiguration happens after Peter’s confession in Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is the Messiah; during which Jesus warns them not to tell anyone that he indeed is the One (Mt 16). In fact, it was also after Peter’s confession that Jesus shares with them his first prediction of his suffering or passion. The disciples leave the Gentile town uneasy over their future.
In such a moment when they were groping for answers as to what their discipleship to Jesus might mean, Peter, James, and John are brought by Jesus to a high mountain, where5 they witness him transfigure: his face shines like the sun, and his clothes become white as light (Mt 17:2). They also see Moses and Elijah converse with Jesus. They must have remembered their Scriptures: “Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet before the day of the Lord (i.e., the Messiah) comes” (Mal 3:23).
So inspired was Peter that he suggests to Jesus of building three tents for these three heavenly. Peter must have remembered not only that their ancestors lived in booths especially while wandering in the desert, but that God also met Moses in a special meeting tent, from where Moses emerged to relay God’s message to the Israelites. Thus Peter’s suggestion; but before he could enact on his proposal, he and his fellow disciples witness further their Master’s dazzling glory, during which cloud casts a shadow, and from there, a voice says: “This is my beloved Son… listen to him” (Mt 17:5). They witness the glory of God in Jesus, and as expressed by Peter, they want to be always in the consoling presence of God.
These were Jews who have been taught from childhood that they could die if they ever met God on earth (cf. Ex 33:20). But instead of them dying, Jesus approaches them and tells them to rise and not be afraid. For life goes on; they need courage to face life.
Our strength is from the Lord who made heaven and earth. In our Second Reading, Timothy has shared his struggles in the ministry with Paul, who in turn advises his protégé to bear his share of sharing the gospel, for God always gives him courage and strength. (2 Tm 1:8): In fact the mystic Paul, who encountered the Risen Lord in a vision, assures Timothy that Jesus has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, and that we, like Timothy, may be certain that blessings, like courage and everlasting life, will be a reality. Is not this the very thing shown to Abraham (First Reading)? God calls him to settle in an unknown land. Perhaps uncertainty, too, crept in the patriarch’s heart, for that time, the promise of blessing is tied to the occupying of the land.
Abraham has to figure it out himself. Abraham goes as God directs him. We find in the Book of Genesis how God fulfilled his promise to his servant.
How many times do we feel uncertainty and doubt in our lives, especially when we suffer so much to make both ends meet; much more in trying to live out our Christian identity whether in our family or community? When we are criticized for certain decision whose results are still to be verified if indeed beneficial to our spiritual life, we get discouraged, lose light and lose sight of the Lord. Let us, then, go back to the scene of Transfiguration, for God has put the Spirit in our hearts and hence has made us heirs of his Kingdom (Rom 5), brothers and sisters of the Favored One. Let the voice of God remind us, “This is my beloved one (Son), with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 17:5).
— Br. Hansel B. Mapayo, SSP