The story of the Lord’s transfiguration happens eight days after Peter’s profession of faith and Jesus’ first prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus follows up his prediction with his teaching on discipleship as taking up one’s own cross. The disciples do not listen to Jesus. They, in fact, do not want to hear him talk about his passion and death. They have followed him in the hope of getting a share of the power in the kingdom he is about to establish.
Such is the disposition of Peter, John and James, as Jesus takes them to the mountain to pray. While Jesus is praying, his face changes in appearance and his clothes become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear beside him, and the three talk about the exodus that Jesus is to accomplish in Jerusalem. What is the meaning of this scene?
The exodus Jesus talks about with Moses and Elijah refers to his own passing (exit) from this earthly life to his heavenly home. And just as the exodus of Israel from the land of slavery to the land of promise had to pass through the deadly desert, Jesus’ passage from this world to his glory will have to pass through the cross and his death in Jerusalem.
On the mountain, Jesus removes the veil of his humanity and reveals his divine identity to the three disciples. This unveiling is meant to strengthen their faith in Jesus whose human weakness and helplessness they will soon witness in Jerusalem. The experience of the transfiguration will help them overcome the scandal of the cross and affirm that they have not erred in following him. For his exodus had long been planned from above and prophesied in the Old Testament: the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). And now, no less than the Father himself gives his confirmation by proclaiming from the cloud, “This is my Son, my chosen One; listen to him.”
Luke makes an interesting note that the transfiguration occurs while Jesus is praying. Lent is a special time for prayer. Let us take this time to find our own mountain or sacred space to be with Jesus. In prayer, we will be surprised to experience our own transfiguration and to see ourselves as we truly are – that benath my frail and sinful humanity is hidden the luminous face (image) of God, and that I too am a child God claims as his own, his chosen one.
As with the three disciples on the mountain, our own experience of the transfiguration is sealed with the Father’s message, “Listen to him.”
We listen to Jesus primarily through the scriptures and the teachings of the Church. The pre-synodal consultations currently taking place throughout the Catholic world remind us that God speaks also through ordinary people. Jesus established the Church and gave her the mission to preach the gospel in his name. “He who hears you, hears me.” (Lk 10:16) Thus we listen to Jesus through his ordained ministers. But the Church is not only the Pope, bishops and priests. The Church is the whole community of God’s people which constitutes the Body of Christ. Through baptism we all have received the Holy Spirit who lives in us as his temples. This Spirit is alive in every baptized and speaks through them. This is the reason why we are holding the pre-synodal consultations. The Holy Father wants to listen to God who speaks through the ordinary lay faithful, particularly those in the peripheries.
Speaking of the poor, Pope Francis writes, “They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198)
I often quote this line to remind myself and my brother priests that as we teach Christ to our people, we should also allow them to teach us about him, for they know Christ better than us. By their suffering, they have become close to the crucified Lord. What do we really know about suffering? We have never experienced the hunger which for many is the norm, or the anxiety from their inability to pay the hospital bills. Ours is a privileged life.
By listening to the poor, we hope to hear Christ and learn how to navigate our own exodus from bondage to redemption, from sin to grace and from Lent to Easter.*