Gospel – 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.”
A reflection by Br. James Wallace, FSC
What a grace for Peter, James, and John to see Jesus transfigured! They got a preview of the glory of Jesus risen from the dead and His glory in Heaven. It was also a preview of the glory we all hope to share in Heaven. It was a very special grace to these three apostles. It was, however, not the only special grace Jesus shared with Peter, James, and John. Earlier, in the Gospel of Mark, we read that Jesus allowed Peter, James, and John into the house of the synagogue official whose daughter He raised from the dead. Later, when Jesus was teaching in the Temple, the three apostles asked Jesus a question privately and He gave them more teaching. Still later in Gethsemane Jesus took Peter, James, and John aside from the others to be near Him in His agony. So Peter, James, and John received many special graces from Jesus. Just before receiving the special grace of seeing Jesus transfigured, Jesus told His disciples that He must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed and rise after three days. How did they react?
Peter rebuked Jesus for saying that and Jesus responded, “Get behind Me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” The disciples had to learn that Jesus was not exactly the type of Messiah that they were expecting. Instead of being a Messiah to liberate Palestine from Roman domination, He told them he would be a suffering Messiah and would be executed. What a shock! That was truly a bit much to take. Immediately following this we read that Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured. How they needed this grace now! They had left everything to follow Jesus and He had just told them He would be killed. They needed reassurance and Jesus did not let them down. They received a huge grace now on the mountain as they saw Jesus transfigured.
Moses and Elijah also appeared and spoke with Jesus. Moses received the Law from God on Mount Sinai and Elijah could be regarded as the greatest of the prophets; certainly here he is a representative of the prophets during Jesus’ transfiguration. So we have the Law and the prophets, as the Old Testament was often called, with Jesus on the mountain. The Old Testament was pointing forward to Jesus as we heard in that beautiful prophecy of Jesus in today’s first reading. Now two great figures of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, appeared on the mountain with Jesus transfigured, to confirm that Jesus is indeed the expected Messiah. In the opening prayer today we heard:
“God our Father, in the transfigured glory of Christ Your Son,
You strengthen our faith by confirming the witness of Your prophets …”
The Father said, “Listen to Him.” In other words, “Do not be scandalized at the teaching of My Son Jesus about His forthcoming passion, death, and resurrection.” As our preface at today’s Mass says:
“He revealed His glory to His disciples
To strengthen them for the scandal of the cross.”
Will they listen to Jesus? Will they stand by Jesus as He goes to His passion and death? We know the story: Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest and James, like the rest of the disciples, abandoned Jesus. Only John listened to Jesus and was not scandalized by the passion and death of Jesus. In John’s Gospel we read that John went right into the courtyard of the high priest while Jesus was being tried and went all the way to the cross of Jesus with the women. When the crunch came between Holy Thursday night and the first appearance of Jesus on Easter morning, Peter and James did not listen; they abandoned Jesus. Their abandonment of Jesus was only temporary but John remained faithful all during Jesus’ passion. Later all three of them (Peter, James, and John) became great witnesses to Jesus. Peter became the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. James was executed in Jerusalem by King Herod for witnessing to Jesus and John authored the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. So the three disciples did listen to Jesus although two of them were temporarily unfaithful during the passion of Jesus.
Perhaps we are disappointed that Peter and James did not listen to Jesus, did not remain faithful to Jesus during the time He most needed them. They had seen Jesus transfigured, they heard the command of the Father to listen to Jesus, they had been with Jesus for other intimate moments like the raising of the girl to life again, but they were scandalized by the passion of Jesus. But why should we be disappointed with them? We also have experienced and met Jesus in many ways and sometimes we too let Him down.
We meet Jesus in a most intimate way every time we receive Him in the Eucharist. It is the time when we are closest to Jesus.
We meet Jesus in the Scriptures as they touch our hearts. Jesus speaks to us now when we read the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not just about the life of Jesus. In the Scriptures Jesus speaks to us about our lives and in them we meet Jesus as He speaks to us about our lives.
We meet Jesus in a very special way in all the sacraments.
Just as Peter and James needed to know after Jesus’ resurrection that He did not hold their abandonment of Him against them, we need to be reconciled to Jesus often. We need to meet Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation often because there are times when we do not listen to Jesus, times when we deny Jesus, not in the courtyard of the high priest in Jerusalem but perhaps where we work or in our community. We do not have to be conquered or governed by our weaknesses or sinfulness. Just as Peter, James, and John received the special grace of seeing Jesus transfigured and received many other graces from Jesus, we too have received many graces from Jesus to help us become the great people He has called us to be and to witness to Him wherever life demands.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration and the Father saying “This is My beloved Son” confirms that Jesus is indeed the expected Messiah. The Father commanded, “Listen to him.” John is a model disciple; he was faithful to Jesus to the end. Peter and James for a short while did not listen to Jesus, but just as Peter, James, and John became great witnesses to Jesus, we too can become great witnesses to Jesus.