Gospel Story of the Week
The Transfiguration of Jesus – Matthew 17: 1-9
“Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shown like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Matt 17:1-2)
Reflection on the Gospel
As our Lenten journey continues, we no longer find Jesus in the desert. His ministry is now in full swing, and we accompany him up the mountain.
The Transfiguration story portrays Jesus as a “mountain man.” Religious leaders in the Jewish tradition “go the mountain,” to the place where they encounter God in a direct and personal way.
Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai, and he symbolizes the era in Jewish history characterized by the law. Elijah experienced God both in the fiery sacrifice on Mount Carmel and in the whispering voice on Mount Horeb. He represents the prophetic era. Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration portrays Jesus as an extension of this mountain tradition as he ushers in the messianic era.
For those of us who don’t immediately grasp the mountain imagery, Matthew’s narrative seems abrupt. Without warning, “Jesus is transfigured before them.” The word “suddenly” appears twice in two verses – portraying the way the divine vision ambushes the disciples, catching them totally off guard. They are completely unprepared for this amazing experience.
Such revelations of God are a pure gift. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve such a wonderful, ecstatic experience. Peter, James and John are gifted with a glimpse of divine majesty.
As our Lenten journey continues, this story calls us to explore our own experiences of the rich and varied ways that God touches our lives. As you look over your life, are there any events or series of events that you would describe as God touching you? Perhaps you didn’t recognize God’s presence at the time, but as you look back now do you see the divine presence in those experiences?
In his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton recounts a profound glimpse of diving majesty.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
Merton’s experience in Louisville occurred in the midst of running monastery errands. Like Peter, James and John, he was ambushed by a totally unexpected glimpse of God’s presence uniting humankind.
In Confessions, Saint Augustine recounts his own profound experience of God’s presence. He was weeping – brokenhearted with contrition – when he heard a voice from a neighboring house. A child was chanting over and over again: “Take up and read; take up and read.” At first, he wondered if it was some kind of game children play, but he had never experienced such a game. Immediately, his mood changed and his tears stopped. He interpreted the voice as a command from God to open the Bible and read the first chapter he found. His eyes landed on the passage: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.” By the end of that sentence, he didn’t need to read any further. His heart was infused with serenity and “all darkness and doubt vanished away.”
Few of us have been gifted with the kind of experiences of God’s presence that ambushed the three disciples, Thomas Merton or Augustine. Although such visions are wonderful, they are not the essence of the spiritual life. We are called to recognize God’s presence in the everyday fabric of our lives. It is there that the God of the incarnation touches us and calls us into a deeper relationship. As our Lenten journey continues, we are called to recognize that our everyday encounters with God are characterized by unconditional love, healing and redemption.
Questions for Reflection
- As you look over your life, are there any events or series of events that you would describe as God touching you?
- Have you ever experienced a dramatic glimpse of the divine presence?
- In what ways have these experiences opened you to a deeper relationship with God?
Invitation to Prayer
Wonderful Creator, give me the eyes of faith so that I might see the ways in which you surround me in the everyday experiences of my life. Gift me with the faith to trust you are with me. Open my eyes so that I may see your touch . . . Open my ears so that I may hear your word . . . Open my heart so that I may surrender to you . . .