Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The Transfiguration of Christ is recorded in the first three Gospels (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9). The fourth does not recount the story, but John 1:14 could possibly be a reference to it: “We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” And Peter wrote, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).
This voice from heaven was heard before, at his baptism in the Jordan. The words were the same (Matthew 3:17. In Mark 1:11 and in Luke 3:22 the words are, “You are my Son, the Beloved…”). In each case a cloud overshadows him (the cloud was frequently an image of God’s glorious presence in the Old Testament: for example, in Exodus 19:9; Leviticus 16:2; etc.). So the scene is like a backward glance to the beginning of his work. It is also a glance to the future: it is like a moment’s preview of the Resurrection. The beginning and the end of the story are brought together in one luminous moment.
In all three gospels this Transfiguration scene comes just after Jesus predicted his suffering and death for the first time. Death, and even the thought of death, freezes the action and brings the whole of one’s life into a point. But that point is not a fading into extinction; it is a moment of Transfiguration. In this lies the meaning of our own suffering too.