Readings: Genesis 12:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9
Dear Friends! In order to understand today’s Gospel we need to put it into context. At Caesarea Philippi Jesus told the disciples that he was going to be rejected by the leaders of his own people, arrested, tried, condemned, tortured and eventually executed. This was too much for Peter and he objected strongly. In turn, he was severely scolded for getting in the way of God’s way of doing things. Even more, Jesus had said that, if anyone wanted to be his follower, then they would have to be prepared to walk the same road of rejection, oppression and even death. All of this must have seemed like a large bucket of cold water landing on the heads of the disciples. What Jesus had said was totally against all they had ever heard about the expected Messiah. It is in this perhaps depressed mood that today’s experience takes place.
To give a boost to their morale, to help them see that the way of Jesus would lead to victory and triumph, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a high mountain. As the disciples watched, Jesus was suddenly transformed. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzlingly white.” Then, suddenly, Moses and Elijah are seen talking with Jesus. Their presence is very significant. They represent the two great traditions of the Old Testament: Moses personified the Law of God’s people and Elijah the traditions of the great prophets. Their presence and their talking with Jesus indicate their total endorsement of all that Jesus is doing and also of all that he will experience in the days to come. Therefore, the disciples need have no misgivings about anything they have heard from Jesus about his coming destiny.
Peter, then, with his usual impulsiveness, enthusiastically suggests building three tents or shrines for Jesus, Moses and Elijah so they could stay on the mountain. It was a wonderful place to be just then. Often, when things are good, we would like them to stay that way forever. Unfortunately, life is seldom like that. We have to move on. When we are in the cinema watching a film, we can’t shout to the projection room and say, “Stop the movie right there! I like this bit.” Life moves on. It is true of Jesus and it is true of his followers. We have to keep moving forward and come to terms with the happenings in our lives. In the First Reading, Abram too is told to leave his country and his family home and go to where God will lead him. God is telling us the same every day of our lives.
As Peter spoke a “bright cloud” covered them. From the cloud comes a voice, the voice, of course, of God himself: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” These are the exact words spoken at the baptism of Jesus. Again they are an endorsement of Jesus and of all that he will experience, including his rejection by his people and his suffering and death on the way to life and victory.
“Listen to him.” This is directed at Peter and the others. To listen to Jesus is: 1) to hear what he says 2) to accept what he says 3) to make it one’s own, to identify with it fully. So far, the disciples have not been doing this. They have been hearing but not accepting. At the sound of God’s voice, the disciples prostrate themselves on the ground, terrified. They hear the gentle voice of Jesus, “Get up (rise up) and do not be afraid.”
They look up and see Jesus standing there alone; the Father is gone, Moses and Elijah are gone. From now on they will see “only” Jesus but, after this experience, they know that he is not alone, that he has the full backing of his Father and of the Jewish tradition of the Law and the Prophets. They were learning the lesson that, though Jesus the Messiah would be rejected, suffer and die at the hands of his own people and their enemies, glory and victory would follow.
They were learning that, if they wanted to be truly his followers, they must accept this fully and that they themselves must be ready to go the same way. If they stay with Jesus, victory, his victory, will be theirs too. If they stay with Jesus, they will have nothing to fear. And that is the message we take home today. Stay with Jesus and listen to him always.