By Father John P. Cush, STD
As in all things, when we read a passage presented to us in the Holy Gospel Lectionary, we must place it in context. If we read this particular passage from the Gospel according to the Evangelist Saint Luke, we might be a bit confused. Why would the Lord Jesus take his three closest associates, the apostles Peter, James and John, up the mountain to pray and, while they are there, to witness the confirmation of the Lord’s identity in the event of his Transfiguration?
We must first examine the first part of this ninth chapter of the gospel of Luke in which we read the Lord’s first prediction of his passion in verse 22 of this chapter. Before that, life might have seemed like an adventure for the apostles. Filled with fire, they met this man who seemed to know everything about them.
This man from Nazareth, this Jesus, was a prophet, even more than a prophet. Simon Peter, the unofficial leader of their apostolic group, when Jesus asks him who the crowd says he is, does what he usually does — it “one-ups” them all. Peter, to use the nickname Jesus calls him, goes far beyond what the other disciples say. They all say he’s Elijah or John the Baptist or some other ancient prophet. Peter goes all out and proclaims him the Christ, the anointed, the Messiah of God.
So Jesus goes and lowers the level of excitement. In verse 22 of this ninth chapter of Luke, he utters these words, which undoubtedly stung the disciples to the quick: “The Son of man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes , and be killed and resurrected on the third day. What is our new leader, Jesus, who is going to lead us all to a new Jerusalem and out of Roman control, about?
And Jesus does not stop there with the prediction of his own suffering and death. To be honest, what Jesus was saying there was not at all surprising in the reality of his day. Men circling Jerusalem claiming to be God’s Messiah were a dime a dozen in Jesus’ day. If they continued to defy Jewish religious authorities, and especially if they were fanatics whose religious beliefs led to political insurrection, no doubt these “messiahs” would be killed. But what Jesus says in verses 23-27 is that not only will he suffer, but so will all who follow him. And they will not simply be rejected, but will suffer the ultimate form of torture – the agony of the cross.
Can you imagine how many followers of the Lord Jesus trembled with fear upon hearing these predictions of suffering? How many of them wanted to leave the side of the Lord and go back to their usual life?
Therefore, when the Lord Jesus takes his “chief men”, Peter, James and the beloved disciple, John, up the mountain, it is a kind of divine “pep talk”. These apostles, perhaps the most influential of all the disciples, bear witness to who Jesus really is. He is the Lord; he is the Son of God, the incarnate Word, a divine Person in two natures, human and divine, God himself.
The Apostles, perhaps filled with fear, doubts, perhaps wondering who they are following until his death and until their own death, bear witness to Christ transfigured, filled with the glory of God, shining more than Moses when he met the Lord. And, to further assure the identity of Jesus in the minds of the apostles Peter, James and John, the Lord meets the two greatest characters in the history of Israel, Moses and Elijah.
Christ knows that if we want to be his disciples, we must carry our crosses. However, we need not fear that the burden of the cross will overwhelm us and bring us down; no, our Lord, our God, our Saviour, the one who became our brother, Jesus the Christ, is right next to us, helping us to carry this cross. And this event of the transfiguration of the Lord reassures both the Apostles and all of us as Christians.
Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Father Cush is Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, and Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, also in Rome.