Grace to you!
I reflect on the message of the Transfiguration as it foreshadows the glory that comes after the cross.
Let the truth be told: Nobody celebrates a hopeless cross. If the cross were the end of life, such a world would be the most loathsome and pitiable. The pain would be unbearable.
Our instinct, which shrinks at the least threat of fire, accident, pain, etc., shows we are wired to look for comfort. It is our nature.
Consider a messiah who schooled his disciples on how their followership of him will entail much suffering. The Messiah foretells his death in the hands of authorities (Mt 16:21-23). He equally told the disciples in plain words that they, too, will suffer and must be ready to lose their life (Mt 16:24-28). In our world today, such a message would have been dark and pessimistic. During the time of Jesus, that Messiah, it was too.
Recall that many during the time of Jesus Christ, just as many today, believe suffering, the cross, is a curse. Why would the Messiah preach of persecution, suffering, death, and doom for himself and his followers?
Were the message to be only about the cross without what is to come after, it would have been too much for the apostles to handle. The Lord knows, and he decides to show them what is beyond the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ is the leader, par excellence.
The dark and gloomy, leaving us without hope, isn’t the Christian message. The late famous French theologian, Henri de Lubac, was spot-on in the so-called analogy of a Christian in terms of hope. He suggested that the believer is comparable to a person who "passes through the battlefield with a rose in hand." I will add that our hope as believers is like one who passes through the battlefield with a rose of victory in hand.
We are not second-guessing the final victory. The Lord has already won the victory. Our final destination is already guaranteed.
It is like making a long journey back to your beach home if you have one. No matter how long or stressful the route is, you are certain that you have a home by the beach where you can feel at rest, overlooking the beautiful blue skies and the sea's colorful waves from your balcony.
The Lord Jesus wanted three of his apostles to see that his cross was not the kind without a crown. His was the kind of suffering that has unimaginable glory. Hence, Scripture says, six days have passed (Mt 17:1); that is, after the message on the cross. Six days have passed, and Peter, James, and John are to see something gloriously dramatic.
There is intentionality in connecting this event to the six-days past the message of the cross. Also, if six days have passed, it suggests the event took place on the seventh day. I don't think this is a coincidence either. Biblical numbers are symbolic. On the seventh day, the Genesis account of creation says, God rested from the work of creation. The seventh day is the day of rest, the Sabbath.
There could be six days of ups and downs, thorns, and thistles. Be confident on the seventh; in the final analysis, there will be rest for the believer. Transfiguration is a glimpse of the eschatological rest, the glory to come. It is a foretaste of the eternal Sabbath.
One may wonder: Why didn't the Lord invite the rest of the apostles to get a glimpse of the glory revealed through the Transfiguration? Only the Lord could answer this question. Perhaps, when we go to heaven, we would ask him.
However, the three chosen apostles have a unique place among the group. Peter was the one the Lord had chosen to lead the Church, the first Pope. So, he had to see where he is leading the Church, the glory of heaven in Christ. It reminds me of a leadership principle. The leader must have a clear vision of where he or she is going; otherwise, pessimism would dominate the organization's culture. The negative impact of a lack of vision is enormous.
James was the first of the apostles to be martyred. So, his witness would be the first in the apostolic college to taste of the glory. John, the beloved apostle, was the closest to Jesus; he was to live longer than the rest of the apostles. So, he could be, sort of, the last man standing, bearing witness to what they had already seen during the Transfiguration. Thus, these three have unique testimonies to the entire Church.
About the Transfiguration itself, the three apostles saw a glimpse of the glory of the Lord. Scripture describes the event using limited human language. "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” (Mt 17:2).
I love Peter's reaction. He wanted to stay up on the mountain and not come down, requesting the Lord have them build three tents, one for the Lord and the other two for Moses and Elijah.
I love a line added by the Gospel of Luke regarding Peter's request: "He does not know what he was talking about" (Luke 9:33). Indeed, Peter didn't know, because he was so overwhelmed that he simply wanted to remain where he was.
The brightness of the transfigured face and form of Jesus's body was so dazzling that the apostles had not seen beauty such as that. They would prefer not to come down anymore and to enjoy what they see. One wouldn't be exaggerating to say it was their purest aesthetics experience.
Nonetheless, the Lord says to them, “Let us go down.”
How sad they must have felt. The Lord was keeping it real. He shows us the glory to come. He assures us of the final goal, namely life, and grace in Him, the fulfillment of all human desires. The Lord assures us that all the sufferings we face, as Saint Paul writes, are nothing compared to the glory to come (Rm 8:18).
Nevertheless, he wouldn't fail to remind us that the way to that glory is through the cross. There is work to be done. So far as we are on earth, the seventh day has not yet come. We have six days to work. To be sure, the Lord punctuates each of those six days with dots of sabbath Joy. He doesn't leave it without hope. But we have the cross to carry before the final crown. However, we carry the cross in hope. As believers, nothing is worth taking away our hope, since our hope is Christ, the fullness of glory.
May the message of the Transfiguration reassure you as a believer so you can see that beyond your pains and sufferings, in Christ and with Christ, glory is sure in the end. As the saying goes, the person who laughs last laughs the best.
I am praying that your heart is filled with hope. May the grace of the glory strengthen you, especially when you are suffering. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Pt 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.