Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18, Phil 3:17—4:1, Luke 9:28b-36
“A teacher in a Sunday School class was reading the story of the Transfiguration. As she read, she noticed one little boy seemed confused. When she was finished, she asked him, “Johnny, why don’t you tell us where Jesus was in this story. He replied, “Oh, he was on a mountain.” “Yes, that’s right”, said the teacher, “Do you remember why he was up there?” Johnny answered with a confused look, “I guess that’s where his arithmetic class was held!!” The teacher looked at him and wondered what he meant. “What do you mean, arithmetic class?” “Well”. Johnny replied, “The Bible said, ’Jesus went up on the mountain and there he BEGAN TO FIGURE” The teacher smiled and said,’ The scripture said He went onto the mountain and there He BECAME TRANSFIGURED – NOT BEGAN TO FIGURE “
Johnny didn’t understand the Transfiguration and I dare say many of us don’t either. The gospel lesson says, “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” Jesus was changed, he was transformed and in this process two figures from the past came to meet him, Moses and Elijah. This was a marvelous experience for Jesus because it gave him the heavenly assurance he was on the right path, the path to Jerusalem and the cross. He was assured of his place in the Father’s plan of salvation as two others appeared who had been in that same plan.
We can read the story, we can understand the words, but what does it all mean? What does it mean for us this transfiguration??
It takes time to get to know a person. The longer we know a person the better we know that person. It took the apostles a long time to get to know Jesus and the longer they were with Jesus the better they got to know him. They got to know him better when he was transfigured on the mountain and they saw his divinity revealed. They would get to know him better again after this when Jesus revealed that he would suffer and die in Jerusalem even though they would not understand until later. They would get to know Jesus better again during the Last Supper, his agony in Gethsemane, his Passion, death and resurrection. The entire time the apostles were with Jesus they were getting to know him better and what following him as his apostles meant. It is the same for us. We also gradually grow in our love for and knowledge of Jesus and we also grow in understanding what Jesus is asking of us.
The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance. Biologists call it metamorphosis to describe the change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. As children we might have curiously watched the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly. Fr. Anthony de Mello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man. “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.”
As Peter, James and John saw Jesus’ divinity revealed their attitudes to Jesus must have been transformed just as they saw Jesus was transformed. We could say that is what Lent is all about, transforming ourselves and our attitudes so that we can see Jesus more clearly. During this season of Lent, we examine our lives to see where we stand before God and each other.
The Transfiguration of Jesus offers us a message of encouragement and hope: In moments of doubt and during our dark moments of despair and hopelessness, the thought of our own transfiguration in Heaven will help us to reach out to God and to listen to His consoling words: “This is my beloved Son; share the glory of His transfiguration.
We need “mountain-top experiences” in our lives: We share the mountain-top experience of Peter, James and John when we spend extra time in prayer during Lent. Fasting for one day can help the body to store up spiritual energy. This spiritual energy can help us have thoughts that are far higher and nobler than our usual mundane thinking.