The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor in the company of his three select disciples reinforces the victory of the Savior over Satan that was proclaimed in last week’s Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent.
Last week Jesus was victorious by resisting temptation. This week Jesus is victorious by embracing fulfillment. Last week Jesus understood that there was no future in heeding the word of the devil. Satan’s triple enticement to trust in God too much, to trust in God too little, and to mistrust God altogether by worshipping Satan was seen to be a cheat and a disappointment. This week as last week, Jesus is affirmed as the faithful Son of the Father, the full revelation of God made visible in a man. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him,” the Father speaks from the heavenly cloud. Thus again, the sonship of Jesus Christ, the sonship of the second person of the Blessed Trinity, is upheld as the measure of all authentic religion, spirituality and holiness. Jesus is the archetype to whom all alert believers will gladly listen. The fullness of revelation is found in Jesus; the height and breadth and depth of truth is also discovered in him. Jesus is God’s word, God’s expression, God’s self-revelation. There is no going beyond Jesus. There is just deeper and deeper involvement with him. He is the truth.
Both Sts. Mark and Matthew make a point of locating the Transfiguration “six days” after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death. St. Luke, for his part, notes that it was “eight days” after Jesus’ sad prediction of his final sufferings that Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. The reader might settle for the time frame of a week after Jesus’ maudlin announcement. Understandably, the news of Jesus’ tragic betrayal and death was not well received by his loyal apostles. St. Peter even incurred the label “Satan” for suggesting that Jesus’ destiny was elsewhere. Even after a week’s time, Jesus still sensed that his passion, death and crucifixion were proving to be a scandal to his well-meaning but spiritually unsophisticated disciples. They were, as might be said nowadays, down in the dumps.
The Transfiguration, then, was an opportunity for Jesus to raise the spirits of his closest friends in the hope that they in turn would brighten the aspects of their fellows. Having told the apostles that he would certainly suffer, Jesus wants now to assure them that he will also be glorified. As he is to share in the sufferings of sinful mankind, so he will likewise share in the splendor of the Godhead. First Golgotha, then glory, is the message of the transfigured Jesus.
The glory to come is also affirmed by the presence of God the Father in the biblically traditional cloud. Moses had met God the Father enveloped by the cloud on the height of Mount Sinai. A cloud had descended on the finally dedicated temple in Jerusalem symbolically indicating the treasured presence of God there. The ascending Jesus would pass into the cloud signaling to those below his return to the heavenly presence of his Father. The alert believer will also not fail to note that the Transfiguration occurs on a mountain, on a raised platform, a step nearer to heaven, so to speak, as Moses had met God on the mountain and as Jesus had offered his most sublime thoughts on a mountain and would die and ascend on a mountain. Through cloud and mountain, the nearness of God’s glory is resoundingly acknowledged.
Jesus’ eventual transition from suffering servant to glorified Savior is also confirmed by the witness of Moses and Elijah. If two men found nothing but grief this side of the grave and had to wait for the next world to receive any compensation whatsoever, those men are certainly the prophets Moses and Elijah. Moses resisted the pharaoh, led the stiff-necked Jews through the wilderness, and died on the banks of the Jordan without ever even stepping foot into the Promised Land. His was a thankless task. Elijah fought the wicked Jezebel and the foolish Ahab tooth and nail in his attempt to restore the old time religion to Israel. At one point, he retreated to the desert, sitting down under a tree to die so exasperated was he with defeat and ingratitude — another thankless task. Yet, eventually the work of Moses and Elijah did bear fruit, success did follow their labors, glory did shine around them. Moses and Elijah were God’s pledge of eventual and certain fulfillment to Jesus’ followers.