The transfiguration in today’s gospel reading is a revelation of Jesus’s divinity and a privileged gift to the three apostles, Peter, James and John who witness it. Appearing beside Jesus are Moses, symbolizing the law, and Elijah, symbolizing the prophets.
Peter embarrasses himself when he asks Jesus if he and the apparitions of Moses and Elijah would want Peter to build a tent for each of them. His question reveals his misunderstanding and his innocence. It may have been a naive question, but it came from a place of sincerity.
All this is to make Peter’s three denials of Christ later on more poignant. Peter, more than the other nine apostles, knew of Jesus’s divinity. Peter had been the first among them to affirm it.
The transfiguration is also a shared secret since no one is to know of these events until Jesus is risen from the dead.
Today we, as Christians, have the benefit of the whole story. The teachings and ministry of Jesus are regarded simultaneously with the events of his death and resurrection. The tragedy is Peter denies Christ having seen the transfiguration. Our failure to live out the divine teachings is similarly tragic.
Maryknoll Fr. Joe Veneroso shares this story:
“I had the good fortune to study Scripture with Rabbi Asher Finkel. What made his lectures intriguing was that his specialty was the New Testament, specifically the teachings of Jesus. Rabbi Finkel offered insights into Jesus that most of us Gentiles could never imagine. One day he launched into an impromptu explanation of the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, saying that, to the Jewish mind, it made perfect sense for the Messiah to be born of a ritually spotless womb. On another occasion he spoke about the meaning of the Resurrection as if he accepted it as fact.
“One day, one of us had the courage to ask him: ‘If you believe this, why aren’t you a Christian?’ He said, ‘The real question is: are you a Christian?’ Before we had time to object he explained: ‘If you claim to be Christian, it means more than just saying “Jesus is Lord.” It means you are willing to live by the gospel values set forth in the Sermon on the Mount.’
“Our life of prayer and good works comes in response to grace, not as its prerequisite. If we truly believe we are precious children of God and that God has forgiven us, then we naturally stop our foolish sinning because we no longer need such crutches and diversions. Sure, we might sin again, but instead of feeling discouraged, we should view these as reminders not to take pride in our own so-called holiness and stop begrudging people of other faith when they do better at living according to gospel values than we do.”
Questions for reflection
Which gospel values in the Sermon on the Mount resonate with you? Which are most challenging?
Oh, Great Spirit,
whose voice I hear in the winds
and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me.
I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes
ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made
and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand
the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be superior to my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes,
so when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit will come to you
- Chief Yellow Lark, Lakota, 1887
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