The Transfiguration of Jesus gives us the courage to accept him—and our authentic selves
A Reflection for the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen. (Lk 9:35-36)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes out to his dearest friends. It is a profoundly personal, intimate and vulnerable revelation that Jesus makes on the Mount of Transfiguration. What a privilege it is for us that the Gospel writers have allowed us into this private space in their lives with Jesus.
This is not a moment where Jesus reveals his sexual orientation to his disciples. It is, nevertheless, a “coming out” moment. Jesus leads three of his closest friends up a mountain to pray and reveals to them who he really is. This is the moment where they witnessed the outward and inward transformation of their friend.
The disciples see a physical change in their friend. The cynics—and more athletic—among us, may chalk up the “dazzling” appearance they report to the sweat pouring from Jesus’ pores after a steep mountain climb. But perhaps we can attribute this white glow to something else: Jesus is finally able to breathe, to reveal himself as he fully is. He is a person of prayer and perfect union with God. His appearance changes because he is in a place that accords with who he fundamentally is, and his friends are now privy to this.
Jesus’ experience ought to be comfort for us in our struggle toward our most authentic self. When we are mostly ourselves, and can exist in the world with fewer fears and pretensions, even our physical appearance is elevated. “She looks like a new person,” we say.
From this place of fuller self-acceptance, Jesus reveals another truth about himself; he is finally able to disclose his father’s will in a familiar way.
What a privilege it is for us that the Gospel writers have allowed us into this private space in their lives with Jesus.
The prophets Moses and Elijah appear and flank Jesus. The disciples would have instantly recognized them and understood the significance of their presence at the sides of Jesus.
They listen as Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah about his own exodus that is to come, his passion and death. At this moment, “Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep.” We can interpret this unease and discomfort with reality, perhaps, from what Peter says: “It is good that we are here.”
On the one hand, Peter must have been in awe of what he had seen while they were praying. At a deeper level, perhaps, he was simply trying to preserve the status quo. He could not have expected they would simply stay in that place; he knew that upon descending the mountain things would turn ugly. He wanted to stay in that place and relish the time he had with his friend.
In our lives, we come to a place where we know we need to take a new direction, to let go of what we think we know, to embrace what we know will be a painful next period. But we want to preserve the present for a little longer. Or we come to a place where everything is so good we don’t want to give it up. “It is good to be here,” we tell ourselves. While it is always good to be in a good place, we know good things come to an end.
But before they move on, they are given one final encouragement, more like a fright or a reckoning.
As they are preparing their camp to stay, they are taken into a seemingly foreboding cloud. There they have direct contact with God, who says: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Listening is a call that shapes the purpose of every believer. But it is not just a call to pay attention; it is a call to action.
It is a call that shapes the purpose of every believer. But it is not just a call to pay attention; it is a call to action. It is the heart of God, speaking to the heart of Jesus’ disciples, and inviting them to seek God with their glance.
With that, the three are thrust from the cloud.
With this intimate God-given knowledge, they now have the courage to move on. “They fell silent,” the Gospel writers reveal. They needed no more assurances; they were finally safe in the knowledge that they had perfectly united themselves with the will of God. God had chosen them not only as companions to Jesus but to reveal to them that they, too, were created in that same image and were, therefore, the begotten and beloved of God.
So, too, are we; the beloved, begotten and chosen of God.
Correction, Aug. 9: This article originally stated that the Scripture passage was from the Gospel of Matthew; it is from the Gospel of Luke.