This day that we celebrate – the feast of the Transfiguration – when Jesus gave a glimpse of His glory to Peter, James, and John, can actually raise more questions rather than affirm something of our faith. One question is, why was Jesus transfigured for that brief moment on the mountain? What was its purpose? And secondly, after experiencing such an event, why did the Apostles still not understand who Jesus was?
One thing we can affirm is that the Transfiguration was an epiphany, a glimpse that Peter, James and John saw of divine glory, manifesting Jesus as the Son of God, but the Transfiguration wasn’t the only event where they saw this divine glory. The same three were also present when Jesus brought back to life the daughter of Jairus, and the number of other examples seeing Jesus’ power and authority. But, despite all these experiences, the Apostles couldn’t see the full picture of Jesus’ mission. While they saw a glimpse of that divine glory and Jesus’ power and authority, they didn’t see that his greatest glory would come from the suffering and death that he would have to endure.
Right before the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed for the first time to his apostles that he would suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, be killed and then rise on the third day. So, hearing that news for the first time obviously caused a lot of fear and confusion among the Apostles, so much so that Peter rebuked Jesus, criticized Jesus that that can’t happen.
And so, the need for the Transfiguration – the need for Peter, James and John to be reminded of who Jesus really is, being encouraged by their vision of Moses and Elijah as a way of saying to Peter, James and John that everything that Jesus said has to take place to fulfill everything that’s been said about Him in the Old Testament, and in case they needed any further encouragement, God the Father’s voice saying to them, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”
There is a lesson for us with this event of the Transfiguration. We’re like the apostles. We want to see God’s glory, His power, working in my life, but like the apostles, we also get afraid and even run away if it means there is some form of suffering involved. “God, that can’t happen. There has to be another way.”
Sometimes, like the apostles, we just don’t get it. How many times in our prayer do we ask God to do all these incredible things: to get rid of all sickness, to end violence, poverty and war? Of course we should be praying for these things and for many other things as well, but, sometimes our attitude can be that when we ask for these things, we ask for them without wanting to be involved at all. We can pray in such a way so that we ourselves don’t have to sacrifice anything for it.
Coming back to the feast we celebrate today, it’s clear that the Apostles still don’t get it. Peter, having just seen Jesus transfigured before him wants to build three tents; in other words, he has no idea what’s going on. And the only thing that Jesus says to them in response is to wait until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. My interpretation of that is Jesus saying to them, “You won’t understand what just happened until you actually see me suffer, die, and rise again.”
This is what’s so helpful about today’s feast, that God wants to show us His power and His glory, but a glory that is revealed only through suffering. Can God choose to reveal His power in other ways, in other easier ways, of course? Jesus didn’t have to die on the Cross. He was God, he could’ve done whatever he wanted, but he chose to die at the hands of his enemies and take up his cross. And now, all of a sudden, he has given meaning to suffering, death no longer has the final word, and the fullness of God’s power and glory has been revealed to us in the resurrection of Jesus. It is with the experience of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection that finally the Apostles get it!
We are reminded today that we frequently think of Jesus’ divinity only in terms of heavenly glory, without recognizing God’s presence on the cross, as if Jesus is only the Son of God in glory, but not in suffering. With the Transfiguration, we’re reminded that God is God even in the midst of suffering, that there is always hope and purpose in whatever difficult moments we have to go through, and it’s especially in those moments when there are crosses to carry that we can experience in our lives more fully God’s power and His glory.
Father Adam Park grew up in the Washington, DC area. He discovered his vocation to the priesthood while on retreat during his senior year in high school. Being ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, he has served in different assignments throughout the archdiocese.