THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
(Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Pt 1:16-19; Matt 17:1-9)
By Fr Augustine Agwulonu, OP
Καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ’ ἰδίαν.
And after six days, Jesus takes Peter and James and John his brother, and leads them towards a high mountain in order to be alone by themselves… (the translation here is by me).
Jesus and his three disciples, Peter, James, and John, began to be alone by themselves as soon as their movement towards a high mountain began. A high mountain in today’s Gospel narrative indicates much more than a physical and geographical location. It points to the goal and destiny of the Christian life and fellowship with Jesus, which is the attainment of the highest height of glory through the transfigured Jesus Christ. Matthew does not tell this story in order to highlight the physical and geographical location of a high mountain in Jerusalem as an indispensable place to experience Jesus’ glory and transfiguration. He is rather telling us that Jesus’ presence, following him, and abiding in him will certainly lead us to glory and transfiguration in God. Let us reflect on this observation below.
We note the tense of the main verbs in this first sentence of our narrative: paralambanei and anapherei. They are both in the present tense. Thus, they indicate action that are ongoing in the present. It is present continuous tense, according to the Greek sense. There is also the preposition: eis + the accusative oros (mountain), which indicate a movement towards. Note also the fact that the text employs oros without an article. In other words, there is no specification of the mountain to which they are headed. In that case, oros can be translated as a mountain. This is the reason that “tradition” has associated the mountain with Tabor. Others, ex. Barclay, believe that the mountain is rather Mount Hermon (see William Barclay commentary on Matt 17). Barclay also observes that the event could not have happened on the summit of Mount Hermon. His reason is that it is not easy to climb to the apex of this mountain. In other words, Jesus is taking and leading three of his disciples in a movement towards an unidentified mountain. The meaning of this is that glory and transfiguration happen when we move along with Jesus. Consequently, as long as we obediently walk with Jesus, trust in his leadership, and remain in his presence, we are moving in the glory, and we are being transformed into his transfigured being. The glory, transfiguration, and transformation in the presence of Jesus Christ define and determine our successful, accomplished, and joyful state of life. They place and confirm us in friendship with Jesus. They drive our destiny to glory, the experience of beauty, and happiness in living our vocation to follow our transfigured Jesus Christ, who in turn transfigures us.
In the first reading, Daniel says: “While I was watching, thrones were set in place…” Notice the imperfect tense. This indicates an action that was ongoing in the past. God allows Daniel to witness what was happening in heaven. He was still on this earth. It was not as if the thrones were already put in place. But God made Daniel to watch the actual setting up of the throne in heaven. This is the same thing in the Gospel. Jesus allows his chosen disciples to watch his manifestation in glory. He makes them to realize that the Christian life is a glorious movement. It is a journey towards and in the actual experience of the glory of the transfigured Jesus. The Christian way of life is not a stagnant and stagnating endeavor. But rather, it is a constant movement in the company of Jesus and with fellow Christian sisters and brothers. We continue to march confidently with Jesus along the path of glory and transfiguration.
How often do we think that the journey is becoming too long and we are not accomplishing much? No, the movement is the goal and the goal is the journey. We must recognize that we are on march in the glory and it is the transfigured Lord who is leading us to our final destination. Each second of our Christian life is a glorious, beautiful, wonderful, and an experience of transfiguration. We are being constantly transfigured in our fellowship with the glorious and transfigured Christ. This is the reason that Jesus does not let Peter build three tents for him, Moses and Elijah. At Jesus’ transfiguration, the Law (represented by Moses), the Prophets (represented by Elijah), and the fulfilment and perfection of the Law and Prophets (represented by Jesus) enter into a conversation. Thus, the Old and the New Testaments shine forth in the glory God and harmonious beauty. This is the consciousness, awareness, insight, and intuition, which today’s readings invite us to appreciate and cultivate as we march along the path of glory and transfiguration with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
St. Peter confirms the evidence of Jesus’ majestic and transcendent glory in the 2nd reading today. One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, who witnessed the Lord’s transfiguration has testified to us that there is authentic “confirmation of the words of the prophets.” He himself was a witness to the event being confirmed. Therefore, he could talk to us as an eyewitness and not as a peddler of myth. As it were, we could nurture picturesque conception of the Lord’s glory and transfiguration in our hearts and minds. We shall do well to believe what we have conceived. And finally, we shall receive and experience in real time, the actualization of our own glory and transfiguration in our fellowship with Jesus. Amen!