Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of Matthew 17:1–9. This is the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus and the revelation of His glory to the disciples. Note that the account of the Transfiguration is also related in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, and those passages are read on Liturgical Years B and C respectively. For more insights into this moment in the life and ministry of Jesus as related in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, the reader is encouraged to consult the Come Follow Me
reflections for the Second Sunday of Lent for those Liturgical Years. As we continue our journey through the season of Lent, this passage offers some good points for reflection and prayer.
When you think about the experience of Jesus’ transfiguration, it is interesting to consider the question, “Who really changed in that moment?” On the surface it seems that Jesus is the one who was changed, but that’s not really the case. Jesus simply allowed others to see His glory as the Son of God, but Jesus remained the same both before and after the experience of the Transfiguration. The people who were most changed by that moment were the disciples. They were given an experience of insight into the presence of God with them (Emmanuel), and that insight was meant to change the way they saw and experienced life from then on. Moments of revelation are meant to change us as well. Like Peter, James and John, we are all given experiences of God’s grace when we recognize “God moments” in our lives. These are our mountaintop experiences, and they are usually wonderful moments of blessing. They also have a purpose, which is to change us in a permanent way so that we can face with deepened faith the situations of our lives from then on. Mountaintop experiences of God’s revelation are real, but they don’t last forever. Jesus always leads us down the mountain, and He continues to accompany us (Emmanuel) as we walk through the daily challenges of discipleship. Mountaintop experiences of faith give us a glimpse of what life in Christ is like to sustain us when we encounter a world devoid of God’s love and hostile to the Gospel. What have been some of the “mountaintop” experiences of God in your life that have changed the way you live?How do you keep alive the memory of those experiences as you face the challenges of daily life?How can a faith community help others recognize and respond to mountaintop experiences in their lives?
Peter was happy to be in this moment. In Matthew 16:15 Jesus posed this question to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Although Peter responded to that question, his answer failed to capture the full reality of Jesus’ identity. Then, just a few verses later, Jesus taught His disciples that He must suffer and die before rising from the dead (Mt 16:21). Of course, Peter knows that where Jesus leads the disciples must follow (cf. Mt 16:24). The disciples didn’t like the message that Jesus would lead them to suffering and death. They wanted to follow a messiah who would lead them to victory and glory instead. That’s why Peter is so overjoyed to now see this moment of the transfiguration. Peter is able to experience the reason for which he himself was following the Lord: glory, honor, and exaltation. Peter wants to freeze the moment and capture the presence of Jesus where discipleship is comfortable, rewarding, and glorious for him. Peter does not want to leave that mountain and follow Jesus to Jerusalem because he knows what awaits them. It’s as if Peter is saying, “Let’s stop here, Lord, we’ve gone far enough.” Peter thought he had reached the satisfactory destination of his discipleship when he found a place of comfort and glory. However, the faith to which Jesus calls Peter and us is lived out in daily discipleship as we progress step by step on our journey to Jerusalem with the Lord. It is a discipleship that does not stop at a place that is comfortable but one that faithfully follows where ever Jesus leads. Sometimes we can be like Peter and not want to take the next step of faith because of the discomforting challenge it will present. This passage is a correction to our complacent discipleship that reminds us of the ongoing need to follow Jesus and never settle for “far enough” or “good enough” when it comes to our faith lives. What tempts you to stop short and settle for “good enough” when it comes to your life of discipleship?How can we become complacent in our faith and want to stop deepening our discipleship?How can people today be tempted to seek only glorious moments rather than the strength to endure sacrificial moments in their faith?What is a step of faith that you are hesitant to take because you find it appealing, comfortable, and predictable to stay right where you are?
Another aspect of Peter’s response is worth considering. In Matthew 16:16, Peter previously tried to correct Jesus’ teaching concerning the necessity of His own suffering and death. Peter wanted to follow a glorious Messiah, not a crucified one. Sometimes people today can have the same mistaken faith of Peter and believe the gospel of health and wealth — namely, that following Jesus brings us a blessed, easy, and glorious life. When we believe that, we misunderstand the purpose of discipleship and are unable to accept the challenges and difficulties (crosses) that are a part of following the Lord faithfully as He leads us through His death and resurrection. We have mistaken faith when we want Easter Sunday without Good Friday. Such is the desire of Peter in this Gospel passage. Following Jesus Christ doesn’t necessarily make our lives easier, but it always brings blessings. St. Teresa once said, “God makes our ills count as gain.”
Discipleship often requires us to accept greater challenges. What are some of the difficulties you have had to accept because of your discipleship?How does the false gospel of “health and wealth” affect people today in their prayer and expectations of Jesus?What examples can you think of in which people have actually stopped being disciples because they were called to leave the mountaintop and embrace the cross?Peter initially followed Jesus because he perceived Him to be the Messiah in a worldly sense. Why do you follow Jesus?
Peter didn’t quite know how to respond to this moment of revelation, and so he immediately starts to talk. Peter mistakenly thinks that this moment of glory is the goal of Jesus’ ministry, so he seeks to enshrine this moment and make it last by building tents. It is in the midst of Peter’s talking that the voice of the Father interrupts and announces, “This is my beloved Son… Listen to Him!” That statement has two meanings. First, it is a statement to Peter that he needs to stop talking and forcing his interpretation on the moment. Rather, Peter needs to listen to Jesus explain and interpret the moment for him. We can do a lot of talking in our prayer as well. Sometimes God wants to remind us that we need to listen more than speak. God knows what we need before we ask; our prayer is meant to open us to do God’s will, not talk God into doing our will!
The second part of the Father’s statement is intended to direct our listening to Jesus as the only one who authentically communicates God’s will for our lives. The Father announced Jesus as His own divine son, and listening is the proper response. This command means that disciples should not only hear Jesus but actually listen to Him. To “listen” to the Son of God means paying attention to the teachings of Jesus with openness, receptivity, and a desire to respond. It means being attentive to the message of the Gospel and seeking ways to apply it to our daily lives. It also means that when we have lots of other influences attempting to tell us what to do (culture, friends, business world, media, temptations, and so forth) that we choose not to listen to those influences but instead listen to the voice of Jesus. It means that when we make any decision, we choose to seek out and listen to the guidance of Jesus and not the other forces at work in our lives. This is a rather powerful teaching for us as disciples. Both elements of the Father’s correction and instruction speak to us as we live our lives each day. We are surrounded by so many influences that are not the Son of God. When we realize that Jesus is given to us to lead us and guide us to the Father, then we can better understand the great responsibility we have to accept His leadership and guidance as authoritative and authentic and not just one more opinion of how we should live our lives. During this second week of Lent, we are invited to examine the many influences that try to give us guidance and direction and to remove those things that do not come from Jesus. He alone is the Son. Anytime there is a competing or conflicting influence, the voice of the Father serves as an admonition reminding us to listen only to His Son. To whom do you listen in those moments when you must decide between competing perspectives? How do you “listen” in your prayer?What are the competing voices that try to influence your decisions and actions?What is a decision that you must make now, and how will you take it to prayer so you can listen to Jesus?God is the one who can best interpret for us the meaning of significant experiences in our lives. What is an experience or situation in your life for which you need to seek God’s interpretation?
St. Teresa of Avila, “Oh Hermosura” in Complete Works,
Vol. III, Trans. By A. Peers, London: Burns and Oates, 1946 (rpt. 2002), p. 284.