WHATEVER ARE WE to make of this event?
Christ took his three most trusted disciples up a mountain and was “transfigured” — one assumes especially for their benefit. Why? And what have Moses and Elijah to do with it? Why not Abraham and Isaiah?
Pope Saint Leo the Great, in a sermon which also supplies the Second Reading in the Office of Readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, helps us towards the answer.
To begin with it is no coincidence that Our Blessed Lord chose Peter, James and John to witness this miraculous transformation. These were the same apostles that He took with Him to witness the agony of Gethsemane. The reason, Leo tells us, was
to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.
Simon Peter — ever the arch-exponent of “speak first, think later” — was very much against the idea that Christ should suffer and die at the hands of the Jewish Establishment, to the extent that Christ felt the need to say to him. “Get thee behind me, Satan. God’s ways are not man’s ways”.
“This is what must be”, Christ was saying. It had been decided at the highest level (perhaps we should say the Highest Level!) that the redemption of mankind was to take this path. Left to themselves would even the most loyal of the apostles, Jesus’ most intimate friends, be able to cope with witnessing the agonies of Gethsemane, the humiliations that were to follow, witnessing also the torturous pain of crucifixion?
The Transfiguration — which followed shortly after Christ’s announcement of his Passion and death — was to combat those horrors. “Do not fear,” Christ was saying, “because this is what will follow. For me and for you.”
And Saint Paul — the last of the apostles who was also privileged to see Christ in His glory — also tells us
For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us. [Romans 8, 18]
Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets.
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” John tells us in his Gospel, and the prophets foretold the coming of the Saviour, Elijah long being recognised as a particular messenger of God.
We must always remember that Christ never did anything without a purpose and even where the evangelists appear to have recorded trivia there is always an important meaning to be taken from what He did and what He said. The Transfiguration is far from being trivial, of course, but it is perhaps not immediately evident what its purpose was.
Pope Saint Leo provides us with guidance and a starting point for further meditation, as does Francis Fernandez in his meditation for the Sunday. In it he reminds us of how this event continued to affect Peter who referred to it in his second Epistle:
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.[2 Peter 1, 16-18]
And we too hear that voice if only we listen.