"And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with Him.”
The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary shed light upon who Jesus is, and upon His mission on earth. The scene narrated in today’s Gospel passage is the fourth Luminous Mystery. What does this mystery of Jesus’ Transfiguration reveal about Him and His earthly mission, and how does this mystery help us along our own Lenten pilgrimage?
Start at the end of the Gospel passage. Jesus commands Peter, James, and John not “to tell the vision [of the Transfiguration] to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” We can gather why the apostles must wait to tell about the Transfiguration from the way Peter responds to it. Jesus likely feared that others, when hearing of the Transfiguration, would think as Peter did when he said: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here”. Peter wants them all to remain where they are. He doesn’t want this moment to pass. But the moment must pass. The glory of the Transfiguration is a means to the end that is Jesus’ death.
Consider the company that Jesus keeps high on that mountain. The three chief apostles witness the transfigured Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law of the Old Testament, while Elijah represents its prophets. Jesus, with face and clothes like the sun and light, in the midst of Moses and Elijah, evokes a promise that Jesus had made at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” [Mt 5:17]. The vision of the Transfiguration helps us see what glory there will be when this fulfillment comes to pass, and helps us see what this fulfillment demands. But that fulfillment is not here and now on this mountain.
Jesus only hints at His fulfillment through His command to the apostles: “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” These are the very last words of today’s Gospel passage. We don’t hear the apostles’ response to Jesus speaking about rising from the dead. Yet even were you to open your bible and read what comes next, you’d find little to suggest that these apostles understand the Passion, death and Resurrection that are to come.
You and I, of course, know “the rest of the story”. You and I know that four weeks from now we will celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus, including His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His solemn institution of the Holy Eucharist, and His bitter Way of the Cross. You and I wouldn’t try to build three tents here and now on this mountain, keeping ourselves from the journey that leads to Easter.
Still, while it’s true that we know what happens next, aren’t you and I like these three apostles? We have no way of knowing what world events might shake the landscapes of our own nation, and of those nations that are friend and foe. We cannot know if severe weather might destroy the property and homes of loved ones and even of ourselves. We cannot possibly know whether a loved one, or ourselves, will be stricken during the next four weeks by a cancer, stroke, or heart attack, or by a personal calamity such as betrayal, as Jesus experienced not long after giving the Eucharist to the Church at the Last Supper. Such calamities, hardships and suffering easily tempt us not to move forward in life.
No matter what way in which you are challenged to move forward in faith, listen to God the Father speaking in today’s Gospel passage. He speaks from the clouds: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The Father helps us to see that the One who stands in glory in this vision, who will fulfill the Law and the Prophets, is not just a New Moses and a New Elijah. He is God’s own Son. His glory is His own, and it’s by His own divine strength that He will fulfill the Law and the Prophets, even if the form of that fulfillment—the form of the Cross—is not yet in view. Jesus by His divine strength wants to strengthen us in the midst of our own sufferings. Wherever we fall from the weight of our crosses, Jesus wants to meet us with His grace, comforting us with His words, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”