Last week we saw Jesus being tempted like the rest of us. It was so human. But this week we see him transformed into dazzling white light! Not so human. What is going on?
I want to describe an Ignatian prayer experience that could shed some light on this “Transfiguration.” Stay with me on this.
Imagine yourself sad and discouraged, wishing God would help you. You want your faith back, which used to be strong. But now you do not find it. You go along in your normal patterns.
Now, suppose that all at once you find yourself moved and attracted to God in a way you cannot doubt, a way that is beyond you but also within you. After the experience, you cannot really doubt that the occurrence is from God, even though you do not really understand it.*
This would be an important moment, wouldn’t it—a transformation (though brief) of your experience of God, a reshaping of it.
So apply such an experience to the scene of Jesus’ Transfiguration in Sunday’s Gospel.
The apostles suddenly behold Jesus with his divinity shining forth. It shows through their blinders (and frightens them). Their experience of Jesus is transfigured. For a moment they see Jesus in the complete union with God that he is.
Notice that I said, “in the complete union with the God that he is,” not a union that he “has.” In Jesus, divinity and humanity are together in one person. Daily onlookers saw only the human, but in this passage, Jesus is showing the apostles his whole self, divinity in its complete presence within its humanity.
Why such a sudden revelation to them?
Possibly this scene is just one stage of the instruction he had been giving to the apostles throughout the whole Gospel. Just before our passage he had finally taught them what a real Messiah is. He said that the “Son of the living God” (or in other words, the Messiah) “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:13-23). A shocking revelation for the apostles, and for us too.
Peter objected vehemently, which proved his shock, taking Jesus aside and rebuking him. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Maybe that is your reaction too and mine as well! Jesus responds. He goes so far as to call Peter “Satan” for resisting the new revelation. Suffering and death are not foreign to Jesus, the Messiah. They are of the essence. Such a hard lesson this is for each of us.
Suffering, death and resurrection at the heart of love!
I suppose the Transfiguration was the way for Jesus to reassure them and us that such awful sounding things actually fulfill his divinity. They are God’s love shining forth. How many of us have time to even think of such a miracle, such a transfiguration?
Go and pray.
* Of course you would always check these things with a retreat director or spiritual director.