The Fourth Mystery of Light, The Transfiguration

Three evangelists give an account of this momentous event while John makes references to aspects of it throughout his writings. The suggested version for our contemplation comes from Luke: Luke. 9:28-36

“About eight days after Jesus said this; he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen”. Luke. 9:28-36

 After reading this account one, possibly irrelevant, question springs to mind. How could the apostles possibly be very sleepy during this spectacular happening? Perhaps, Jesus had been some time at prayer before he was transfigured and the apostles tired by the climb up the mountain fell asleep and woke after it had commenced. Or, perhaps they were shocked or dazed by the brilliant light rather than sleepy. However, they were able to give us a good account and a little detail of what Moses and Elijah spoke about to Jesus. Maybe Jesus did not want them to see and hear everything.

The context of this transfiguration event is significant. Jesus was nearing the end of his public ministry. He had recently asked the apostles, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter had declared “You are the Messiah the Son of the Living God” After this he had begun to talk to them about his future suffering and death and that he would rise from death on the third day. The opposition of the Pharisees was intensifying and Jesus was fearlessly denouncing their hypocrisy. Mt 23:13... Jesus would shortly enter Jerusalem amid great public acclamation and cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David” ... Tension was certainly heightening!

Jesus had invited just three of the Apostle to witness his Transfiguration, Peter, James and John. These appear to be the key figures among the Twelve. Was Jesus preparing them, strengthening them for what was to come - his total humiliation, his seeming helplessness in the face of the scheming scribes and Pharisees, the ineptness and cowardice of Pilate, his barbaric treatment at the hands of the Roman soldiers, his death on the cross? Would they remember this event and encourage the other apostles and close associates of Jesus to believe that he would ultimately triumph and would indeed rise to life again in three days.

Certainly his transfiguration and the appearance of those two great figures of their Jewish heritage, representing the Law and the Prophets, was a momentous happening for the three of them to witness and something too awesome to process in the present moment. Surely, the memory of what they witnessed on Mount Tabor would have been a great source of light, faith, and encouragement in the dark difficult times that lay ahead and for the work they had to undertake after Jesus returned to heaven.

As we meditate on this awesome, spectacular event recalled for us in the Gospels, we have the benefit of hind sight. It is good for us to try and stand in the sandals of the apostles and all the followers of Jesus as the tragic events slowly unfolded. During that long, slow Saturday following the death and burial of Jesus, might, we wonder, Peter James or John have shared  again this experience with the others and encouraged them to dare to hope that Jesus would, indeed, rise from death on the third day.