Jesus took Peter James John and went up the mountain to pray. And there at their sight he was transfigured. They got a preview of the glory of the risen Jesus from the dead and his glory in heaven. It was also a preview of the glory we all hope to share in heaven.
Through the Mystery of his Transfiguration in the presence of Moses and Elijah, Jesus wanted to show his apostles, ahead of time, the Glory of his Resurrection. They would thus be better able to undergo the trial of the Cross and the Passion of their Master. Jesus was accompanied by Moses and Elijah; two pillars of the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets, the whole Jewish tradition. Luke says they spoke with Jesus of his coming experiences in Jerusalem. What is obviously implied is that Moses and Elijah fully recognized what would happen to Jesus as totally in conformity with the tradition they represented. The disciples, however, did not fully understand what was happening; they were “heavy with sleep” but just managed to keep awake. When Moses and Elijah seemed to go away, Peter by instinct said: “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! So let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” The Gospel comments that Peter did not know what he was saying. Clearly, this indicates that they were in totally a new atmosphere. Their vision had made them aware of the new reality of God. Tent in the Old Testament is identified with the presence of God.
Then there was the cloud around them. The cloud in the Biblical sense symbolizes the presence of God, and this cloud covered them with a shadow and “the disciples were afraid”. They recognized the cloud immediately as the close presence of God himself. Then they heard God the Father’s voice from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.” They are being told to remember the words Jesus just told them about the Messiah, who would be rejected, suffer and die shamefully. If they could not understand and accept those words, they would not know the real Jesus. To be his disciples they had to listen to him intently. As Jesus would tell them later, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (John 12 24). The suffering and death of Jesus are the seeds of new life for all of us. After the “voice” had spoken, they found themselves with Jesus alone, the same “ordinary” Jesus they always knew. But they kept silent. They had nothing to say but much still to learn and to understand about the Person and the Way of Jesus. What they needed was the gift of faith and total trust in Jesus and in God. They would grasp this fully only after the resurrection of Jesus.
In prayer Jesus was transfigured and the disciples witnessed to the awesome sight. It is within this prayer context that extra ordinary things begin to happen as suddenly the appearance of the face of Jesus changes, his clothes become dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appear to him in conversation. It is also within this same context that the voice from the cloud is heard. This is how Luke tells us today that within the context of prayer that God’s presence is felt. We realize and encounter the glory of God in quietness and prayer as we try to be alone with the Lord. The transfiguration of Jesus that the disciples experienced was not simply something they were to see and experience as happening to him alone but it was also an invitation for them to undergo a transformation and transfiguration of their own.
“The Apostles, having stood up (for they fell on their face hearing the voice of the eternal Father), saw only Jesus alone (Matt 17:6, 8). That is the sovereign degree of perfection, seeing only Our Lord in whatever we do. Many refrain from looking upon others and the things of this world, but there are extremely few who no longer regard themselves. However, the only thing necessary is to see God, to search only for him, and then we will be blessed.” St. Francis de Sales