Summary: Year A 2nd Sunday of Lent Alternate Reading Matthew 17: 1-9 Title: “The Transfiguration of Our Lord.”
Year A 2nd Sunday of Lent
Alternate Reading Matthew 17: 1-9
Title: “The Transfiguration of Our Lord.”
Jesus takes Peter, James and John up onto a mountain where he is transfigured before them.
The Transfiguration scene is yet another step or stop along the way of revealing just who Jesus is. Besides being the Messiah, the Savior, he is also God’s Son. This is a major theme in Matthew. In 1:20 the angel told Joseph that Jesus would be God’s Son. In 2:15 he is so identified by quoting from Scripture, specifically the prophet Hosea. In 3:17 God himself so designates him. In 14:33 the disciples recognize and confess him as such. In 16:16 Peter does so. Here, once again, God himself repeats what he said at Jesus’ baptism.
Though we are not told so, the numinous enveloping of Jesus in the divine environment, must have happened to Jesus more than just this once in his lifetime. In fact, his baptism has all the markings of just such an experience. When Jesus prayed in a focused way, for he was always in conscious contact with his Father, he most likely experienced God’s presence in such an overwhelming way that it had an effect on his surroundings; as well as himself. Perhaps, that is why he would withdraw from his disciples to pray alone. But, this time, this one time was different. He let them observe. Jesus seemed rather unaffected by the whole experience. Once it was over, he returned to “normal,” without much fuss or notice. It was the disciples and their reaction to this numinous event that Matthew concentrates on. He is teaching something here about prayer and about perseverance.
Perseverance first. The disciples needed this experience to both teach them about Jesus’ goal and to confirm them in their own resolve to stick to the program until they themselves arrived at the goal, eternity. That would mean a lot of suffering in the meantime. This glimpse of glory, a solitary glimpse indeed, for no other similar experience is recorded, this glimpse of glory was to be revisited in their minds when things got rough and tough to remind and strengthen them to persevere until the end. It was a great gift and explains why, despite their lapses into confusion, into a this-worldly perspective, such as arguments over who is the greatest, fleeing at the arrest of Jesus, etc. , they did recoup, recover, and remain faithful after all.
Prayer. The disciples had a religious experience, a mystical experience, an experience of wonder. The scene and its aftermath teach that moments of ecstatic union with the Lord are meant to be just that, moments, not abiding experiences. Jesus, his Spirit, remains with us, but sacramentally, especially through his word. We do not yet have the sustained, felt vision and comprehension of the divine presence. We cannot live here in a state of ecstasy. We must learn to pray as Jesus did. Yes, high points of consciousness, but also low points of awareness minus emotion. We must constantly remind ourselves of the invisible presence of God, when we do not feel his presence or any of the effects of his presence, such as we feel in contemplative prayer. Many people who do not feel God’s presence in a particular church use that lack of feeling, as an excuse not to go to church. But, we always have his word. He remains in his word and we are to listen even when we are not on the mountain. That will sustain us, cause us to persevere. God’s presence and power do not depend on our “feeling,” it, only recalling it and listening to it. That form of presence does not require any mountain, setting scene, appearances of Old Testament stars or New Testament saints.
In verse one, after six days: After six days God called Moses into a cloud of glory (Ex 24:16) that covered Mt. Sinai. The story here is recalling the Sinai theophany to Moses. Whether six actual days had passed is immaterial. The Transfiguration scene is to be understood against the backdrop of Sinai. Also, in the festivals of Israel, the first day of the seven-day long feast of Tabernacles, alluded to in verse four, began six days after the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. A Jewish reader would pick up both these references, rather removed from a non-Jewish reader.
Peter, James and John: These three, among the first called, form an inner circle among the Twelve, especially close to Jesus. In the new covenant they will function much as Moses and Elijah, did in the old one.
Mountain: While the storyteller makes clear that this is a real mountain, a metaphor for a place of revelation, yes, but a real place also, he does not identify it. Tradition assigns Mt. Tabor the honor, but it is too far from Caesarea Philippi (16:13) and had a Roman fort on it, full of soldiers, and thus, not private enough, to fit the bill. Mt Hermon, about fourteen miles away, and Mt. Carmel are two other possible candidates. Exactly what mountain is involved here is immaterial, however. It is a real mountain, but has metaphorical significance as a place of revelation, a kind of Galilean Sinai.