Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 17:1-9, Last Sunday after Epiphany: February 19 2023

Gospel of Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, 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 shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Let us pray: Dear God, at the Transfiguration, you showed Jesus in glory, a glimpse of what His disciples would see in His risen life. We, like the first disciples, equally ask that you bless us with an awareness of your presence, leading us to share in your divine life even in our daily struggles. Grant us clarity and deeper knowledge of the Law and Prophets that have always served as signposts and channels of your salvation for the community of believers. This is our prayer in the name of Your Son, our Transfigured Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Amen.

Again, we hear the words Get up and do not be afraid.” What happened on that mountain top woke up and caused the disciples to be afraid of impending changes. Maybe that event, what we call the transfiguration, was about preparing and helping the disciples live through the coming change. Maybe the transfiguration story has something to teach and show us about how to live in the midst of change. Maybe that’s why every year the transfiguration is the gospel we hear on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Sunday before we enter the season of Lent, a season that focuses on change. Change, whether on the mountain top of life or in the valley of the shadow of death is a reality for all of us. And then we look at those around us and see from the inside out: people capable of transfiguration. People present in their light and brightness, and who know that the light of Jesus given them at baptism is never extinguished. As Jesus took Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. Jesus wanted his disciples to know that he would, indeed, be glorified, but it would not at all be the kind of glory most people were expecting, not a worldly kind of supremacy. Nor would he gain that glory in the way most people thought he would by physical war with Rome. The glory that lay in store for Jesus, which the disciples previewed in the transfiguration, would come through his death and resurrection. The transfiguration was therefore meant to be a lesson on the cross, to show its necessity. It would only be through his death and resurrection that he would attain glory. That’s why Jesus committed himself to the cross: it was the path to His glory ( John 12:24). The transfiguration was not a random event but was a precisely timed and executed manifestation of glory that was to serve as a lesson to the disciples about what kind of Messiah Jesus was, and how he would attain his greatness. The disciples needed to begin to learn this new, biblical but unheard-of idea of glory. The voice of God the Father resounding from the cloud has an important message to convey to the disciples, and us: ‘Listen to him’. A listening heart is a heart warmed by the love of God and taught by his words. The one we listen to is the Son of God, Jesus, transfigured in his humanity.  “Listen to him.” This is directed at Peter and the others. This is also directed at us today. So many voices cry out for attention. Not every voice, however, is helpful or worth listening to. Some voices may sound sweet, but they are not good for us. The story of the transfiguration says there is only one voice to listen to. The voice of God speaks from the bright cloud overshadowing Peter, James, and John, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”  To listen to Jesus is to hear what he says; to accept what he says; to make it one’s own, to identify with it fully. Jesus knew that there was a time for silence and a time to speak. We need to ask God to help us to know which is appropriate, and when, and especially when it is time to listen. Preparation for the disciples did not come on the mountaintop and it won’t for us either. As we come down off that mountain, we need to reflect on that mountain top’ experiences to help us cope with everyday challenges of life in the valley. That experience was one to enjoy, celebrate, and treasure, but the real work awaits below. They, and we as followers of Jesus Christ, are chosen as we are needed down in the valley.

Let us pray: Jesus, how good it is that you are here with us. Let me never lose sight of your glory, no matter how much darkness may press on me. Let me live in your presence forever. This we pray in the name of the Transfigured Christ. Amen.

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