In the chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel that comes just before the one read today -- that is in the 16th chapter -- we read of Simon being given the grace by God to recognize that our Lord was indeed "the Christ, the Son of the living God"; and we read that our Lord then gave him a new name, "Peter" meaning "rock" (as in "petrified"); and announced His intention to found His Church on this rock, Simon Peter. And we further read that our Lord announced the necessity of His going to Jerusalem to suffer and to be put to death. Simon Peter, of course, was indignant at the idea and wanted to keep it from happening. Our Lord's reaction was very strong -- He went so far as to compare Peter to the Devil, for being more concerned with worldly comfort and security than with the things of God.1
This morning, the Gospel puts Jesus and Peter, James, and John high on mount Thabor, where our Lord undergoes this miraculous transformation: "His face shone as the sun, and His garments became white as snow. And there appeared Moses and Elias talking together with [Jesus]."2 And apparently, the desire to not allow our Lord to go to Jerusalem and be crucified is still on Peter's mind. You can almost hear him thinking: "Lord, this is a good place to be ... why don't we pitch a few tents and spend some time here with Moses and Elias ... maybe a few months ... maybe long enough to cool things down and let the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin forget about why they wanted to crucify You."
Of course, Peter didn't say it that way, and even before he could finish speaking the three disciples were privy to another miracle as a cloud obscured everything in sight and all they could hear was the voice of God the Father, saying: "This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased, hear him." No doubt, that was enough to convince Peter -- the journey to Jerusalem was indeed God's will and could not be resisted. The disciples were saddened, as one might expect -- our Lord predicted His Passion on two subsequent occasions, and the Scriptures record that the disciples were "exceedingly sorry," "in dismay ... and afraid."3 But, even still, God's will could not be contradicted -- and some sort of consolation could be found in the idea that things were shaping up the way they were supposed to, the way God wanted them.
If we ask ourselves why our Lord worked this miracle of transfiguration, certainly one answer will be to strengthen and prepare the disciples for His crucifixion. With our Lord speaking about suffering and death, it would be beneficial for them to see that the human form of Christ was endowed with great power and majesty -- it would begin to prepare them to understand and to recognize that He was indeed capable of His own resurrection on the third day. In fact, Saint John records in his Gospel that at roughly this same time our Lord gave further proof of his power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead!4
Pope Leo the Great tells us that the glorified body seen by the disciples could not be a manifestation of His divinity -- no living eyes can see God as He is in His divine nature. The transfiguration, then, had to be the glorification of Christ's humanity.5 And that sort of glorification should suggest something to all of us. Christ would rise from the dead -- the disciples needed some assurance of that, and were given it in this miracle -- but we know of the certainty of His resurrection through the hind-sight of the New Testament, where this historical fact is regularly reiterated.
We modern Christians can see in the Transfiguration of our Lord's humanity a promise of our own future glorification. After all, the reason our Lord took human nature was hardly for His own glorification -- His incarnation was a noble act of condescension, of lowering Himself to the level of human nature. But, perhaps, our Lord was giving us a hint of what humans might expect in the kingdom of heaven. For this reason we can join the disciples in taking great consolation of our own in this miracle of the Transfiguration. Life is filled with uncertainties, and disappointments, and difficulties -- in the Transfiguration we can see a promise of future reward -- a promise that when the brief span of our lives is over, there can be an eternity of glory with God.
Lent may seem to many to be a difficulty, if not an imposition. The exhortation to holiness of Saint Paul in today's epistle may seem similarly difficult. Learning to "possess our vessels in holiness and honor, and not in the passion of lust" may seem contrary to the "wisdom" of the world in which we live.6 But, today we see the reason for such striving, the possibility of eternal reward.
In the next few days or weeks we may witness events that will change the way we live our lives forever. There can be no certainties in war and politics that we are doing the right thing -- no certainties, even, that the course taken by our leaders will be in our own best interest. Certainly, it would be the height of presumption to assume that we have the moral high ground, and that "God is on our side." We can only pray for not too disastrous an outcome. But here again, the guiding principle should be that life shortly passes, and our concerns ought to greatest for the eternal life that never fades from glory.
This miracle of the Transfiguration is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, and Luke -- and is read at Mass at least three times each year -- it is clearly of some importance to us! No matter what difficulties may come to us in life, we ought to live it with the hope and expectation that some day God will welcome us into His glory, and say of us: "This is My beloved son ... this is My beloved daughter ... in whom I am well pleased."