The Transfiguration of the Lord can sound embarrassingly magical. Jesus goes up onto a mountain and his clothes become dazzlingly white. Prophets appear and talk to him. And then it is all over and Jesus tells his disciples to say nothing.
We should hold on to the absurdity of the incident. There is simply no reason for all this to have happened. In particular, there is no reason to put it into a gospel – the evangelist makes no capital out of it, it is simply there.
And this is the strength of the Transfiguration as an historical incident. There is no reason for anyone to have invented it. It is not central to the Christian case. It is not used to win arguments. There is only one reason to put it into the Gospel, and that is because it happened. It is one of those cases of the evangelists writing things down without knowing why they were important, and their very puzzlement is what makes the story so convincing.
Why, then, did it happen? Surely so that we could see and understand that Jesus is at once one of the prophets and the one that was prophesied by them; and that he is God, and lives for all eternity in a blaze of dazzling and unapproachable light.
The true miracle of the Transfiguration is not the shining face or the white garments, but the fact that for the rest of the time Jesus hid his glory so well.
[Reflection courtesy of Universalis.com]
The transfiguration was a story that I’ve marveled at from the time my father read it to me as a little kid. The experience of Peter, James and John — as believing Jews — to see their rabbi with none other than Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets. And God himself reiterating his confirmation of Jesus’ identity — how’s that for a validation?
And yet, it’s the kind of story that — well, you can just imagine the incredulous reactions they’d receive if they actually attempted to convey to their fellow disciples what they had experienced on that mountain. (Imagine if your co-worker turned to you and started relating this experience).
Little wonder, then, Jesus told them to keep quiet?
As the commentator notes, it’s the eyewitnesses’ “very puzzlement is what makes the story so convincing.” And likewise, it is in the historical event of the Resurrection that the theological meaning emerges and comes into focus. You can imagine, again, how Peter, James and John might have reflected back on this experience — perceiving it with new eyes.
From the Catechism:
555 For a moment Jesus discloses his divine glory, confirming Peter’s confession. He also reveals that he will have to go by the way of the cross at Jerusalem in order to “enter into his glory”. (Lk 24:26) Moses and Elijah had seen God’s glory on the Mountain; the Law and the Prophets had announced the Messiah’s sufferings. (Cf. Lk 24:27) Christ’s Passion is the will of the Father: the Son acts as God’s servant; (Cf. Isa 42:1) the cloud indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit. “The whole Trinity appeared: the Father in the voice; the Son in the man; the Spirit in the shining cloud.” [ St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 45, 4, ad 2.]
You were transfigured on the mountain, and your disciples, as much as they were capable of it, beheld your glory, O Christ our God, so that when they should see you crucified they would understand that your Passion was voluntary, and proclaim to the world that you truly are the splendor of the Father. [Byzantine Liturgy, Feast of the Transfiguration, Kontakion.]
568 Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent on to the “high mountain” prepares for the ascent to Calvary. Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: “the hope of glory” (Col 1:27; cf.: St. Leo the Great, Sermo 51, 3: PL 54, 310C).
It is a wonderous story. And to consider that it is true …