Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.
Rising high above the landscape of Israel is the great Mount Tabor - a fitting venue for a most glorious event in the life of Jesus - the Transfiguration. Jesus takes His three favoured apostles - Peter, James and John up the mountain with Him to wait on God in prayer. Jesus frequently did go up the mountains by Himself to spend hours and nights with the Father. But this was a moment with eternal significance for the faith of the apostles, their proclamation and for the faith of all generations - significant because it is a revelation establishing the divine nature and mission of Jesus Christ.
"This Is My Son, My Chosen; Listen To Him!" (Luke 9:35)
This event about the dazzling glory of God though shrouded in mystery is recorded by three of the evangelists (Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9). For Peter, James and John, this extraordinary vision was a moment of revelation which would later become the strong basis of their proclamation that Jesus was Lord and Saviour. Recalling the unforgettable experience, St Peter writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16,17)
Because of this powerful firsthand experience of the disciples, the Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ was convincingly proclaimed from the earliest times enabling the Church to withstand the heretical trends that questioned the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. The gospels themselves report that questions arose even from the first days of the public life of Jesus. The well-meaning Nathaniel would ask, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) The people of His own town would debate “Is He not the son of the carpenter?” (Luke 4:22) The religious leaders contended "Can a man who walked the earth and broke the sabbath call God His Father leave alone being a God?" (John 9:16) Even in His last hours, they challenged His Divine claims - “If you are the Son of God come down from the cross?” (Luke 23:35-39) This trend of questions continued in the time of the early Church giving rise to many heresies that threatened to dilute and distort the truth about the divine nature of Jesus Christ. However the Church has held fast to the powerful proclamation made right at the day of Pentecost by Peter: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36)
“All The Promises Of God Find Their Yes In Him” (2 Corinthians 1:20)
The gospel versions connect the Tabor event to the declaration of Simon Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Here Jesus had enquired of the disciples a seemingly irrelevant question about people’s opinion of Him - “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13) While they reported the many different opinions prevalent such as Him being a fiery and mighty prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah or as the zealous and radical Baptist, the Lord asked a very personal question, “Who do you say that I am?” In the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, Simon Peter confessed that He was the Messiah promised by God to save the people. However immediately after this grand declaration of faith, Simon Peter and the others were to hear the shocking prophecy of Jesus that this promised Messiah was to face condemnation, betrayal and a violent death. Peter could not digest this - “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22) It was clear for Jesus that His disciples had no understanding of the mission of the Messiah and the way of salvation. He knew that this lack of comprehension would lead them to abandon Him in the hour of His Passion. At the Last Supper He revealed this as well to the disciples, “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” (John 16:32) Though the pain of loneliness was acute in His mind, He could pursue the path set before Him because He had the assurance, beloved as He was to the Father (a declaration made a second time at the Transfiguration), that the Father would always be there for Him.
It was such an assurance that the disciples were in dire need of. So before the disciples were to encounter the shattering experience of seeing their Master crucified, they are offered a clear vision of the higher Divine Plan. Jesus on His way to Jerusalem calls them to witness the Transfiguration that they may understand God had indeed been faithful. Clearly revealed here is that the Person of Jesus Christ though cloaked in the humble human form was indeed the Son of the Most High and the fulfillment of all the prophecies and revelations of the Old Testament.
The presence of Moses and Elijah was of vital significance in the context of the Jewish history of salvation. Moses was the greatest law giver who manifested God’s definite Will by which the chosen people were to mould their lifestyle. Elijah was the greatest of all the prophets who established the worship of the true God in Israel and turned the hearts of the people to God. That these two towering figures attend on Jesus is to highlight that in Jesus resided the culmination of the righteousness, prophecies and expectations of the Jewish nation. In Him, all that the humankind longed for had found fulfillment. Overwhelmed by the grandeur of this vision Simon Peter exclaimed that it was good to be with Jesus. Earlier when Jesus had predicted His Passion and Death, the disciple had revolted in a sense of frustration. It was unimaginable that the Master’s life marked by glorious signs, wonders and prophetic claims before multitudes should end in such a terrible tragedy. It was unacceptable even if this was to fulfill the mission of saving humankind. It seemed a total negation of all that they had expected of the Messiah. They were still bewildered and their minds still under the thick dark cloud of sadness and incomprehension. In this situation, the dazzling Glory of the Transfigured Lord struck through! They felt a liberation and a relief to hold on to even if they could not understand the Mystery of the Cross. It was to unveil the marvelous Divine Plan of Salvation that Jesus took the disciples up the high mountain.
“I Will Tell You Great And Hidden Things Which You Have Not Known.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
The Mount Tabor experience is an invitation to everyone who chooses to follow Christ. For a disciple of Jesus, everything need not and will not go comfortable according to the whims of the world. If we are to follow Jesus, the sure destination is glory but all along, it involves bearing one’s daily cross and following Him. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up His cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Peter was enamoured by the glorious Presence of God. He wanted to ride on that wave and remain there - “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents.” (Matthew 17:4) But that was mere human thinking that contrasted or rather contradicted the Divine will. The Way of God however would lead them from the high mountain of ecstatic experiences down to the valley of their day-to-day struggles and so accomplish the Divine mission.
However committed we are in our endeavour to continue the mission of Jesus on this earth, we are bound to meet with failures, disappointments and even resistance. All our labour may look futile and our life meaningless. It is at such junctures that we need to head towards the sure Promise of Glory and follow the footsteps of Jesus, “to go up to the mountain to pray.” (Luke 9:28) In the Bible, the mountain was always considered the point for man to encounter God. The mountain is raised up high above the fields of our daily activity. However deeply involved we may be in our work, we must look up to see the mountains beckon us. There should be a time in our life for stillness, contemplation and adoration when we can gaze on the Face of God with reverence and open our hearts to overwhelming joy.
In the psalm we hear the Lord inviting us - “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) In the bleak moments of our life, we need to hear the invitation of God. There are perhaps times we are too busy doing things when we could do better being silent. In that silence, we are bound to hear the Voice of God with a message to give us and a comfort to soothe our hearts. In such still moments of prayer, God would reveal to us the meaning of the often incomprehensible mystery of our suffering.
“The Gate Is Narrow And The Way Is Hard, That Leads To Life” (Matthew 7:14)
A rather accurate translation of the gospel describes how Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus of "His exodus that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem." (Luke 9:31) It is important to note the word used is ‘exodus’ as it is in the original Greek version. In the Bible, the word ‘exodus’ refers to the transfer of the people of God from Egypt the land of slavery to the Promised land “where milk and honey flow,” the land of prosperity, celebration and liberation. But the passage involved the rather arduous path of the desert. They went through this tortuous journey in obedience to the directives of God and with total trust in God. When the evangelist speaks of the “exodus” of Jesus, he indicates the nature of the journey that Jesus was going to take in Jerusalem. When He came face to face with His Father on that Mount He got the assurance that the perilous journey of the Cross will surely lead Him to the splendor of glory. It is this same assurance that we too shall receive in the moments of prayer.
A young lady once shared with me her journey of faith. Married to a rich businessman, the one great scourge of their life was that they were childless. Medical reports revealed that both of them had problems and the only solution the doctors offered was to conceive a child by IVF outside of the womb with a donor sperm. Initially the husband too rejected this option. But as friends and family kept urging him to take up the offer of technology to provide a child, he began to think otherwise. They encouraged him saying that no one would know that the conception took place in an artificial manner. He was pressurized as they kept conveying the speculations in social circles about his having no heir.
He finally made the decision that somehow they should get a child and spoke to his wife about it. She consulted her spiritual guides and felt a clear conviction in prayer that this was not God’s will. Yet, the intensity of her longing for a baby in no way reduced. She was pressurized even by her parents to give in to her husband’s solution. She felt burdened and the only place she would rush to would be the prayer room and there she spent time with the Lord. Every time she prayed one message she received from the Lord was the declaration of the psalmist - “The Lord is my shepherd; nothing indeed shall I want.” (Psalm 23:1) Each time, unfailingly, she felt consoled and received a new confidence that the Lord would grant her desire in His own way and in His own time.
Meanwhile her husband was getting impatient and could only interpret her refusal to cooperate with his plan as obstinacy. Her efforts to explain herself were only in vain. She conveyed to him repeatedly her conviction that the baby should be accepted from the Hands of God and not from a test tube. When he taunted her, she would still insist that if God did not want to give them a child it was His superior Plan that they should accept however difficult it seemed. This language the husband did not understand. All he could feel was that the embarrassment and lack was unendurable! At the frequent social gatherings when he saw friends coming in with their children, an unbearable emptiness pierced through his heart. He took to drinking and began to get violent with his wife. She felt deeply hurt and isolated. In such moments, she would rush to wait on her Maker with the offering of her tears and unfailingly the comforting Presence of God would be given to her. Every such time the one assurance from the Word of God that was repeatedly given was the psalmist’s assertion, “The Lord is my Shepherd; nothing indeed shall I want.” (Psalm 23:1) She could not explain this to anyone but deep in her heart she felt a confidence of faith that the Lord would place in her hands a baby.
Months passed and all she had was the Promise in her heart that was getting more firmly rooted during her time of prayer. The hope from the Lord would never disappoint. She conceived a child. When the husband heard the news, he was overwhelmed with joy and sought pardon from her for refusing to share her faith and how this only made him insensitive to her. It was at the venue of prayer that she got the assurance of God’s Plan for her that enabled her to walk the path of faith and reach the promised land of glorious fulfillment. She became a credible witness of the Lord to her family - inspiring everyone to hold on to God’s Plan however impossible it might seem in daily life situations. The assurance of Scripture remains that “If we endure with Him, we will also reign with Him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
In every painful situation, there is an answer and a power that God offers us. It is while we wait in prayer that we shall get a glimpse of the beyond awaiting us and urging us to pursue the path to life. While we wait on God, the partial truths of the earthly thinking that cloaks us shall wither away and the Light of God shall shine from within us. The gospel describes that “While Christ was praying His face changed in appearance and His clothing became dazzling white.” (Luke 9:29) His time with the Father was His most precious hours of living. The radiance that shone from within Him was unaltered by the harsh realities around Him. There is a Divine Light within every one of us placed by the Hands of our Maker. As we wait in prayer, this Light shall shine out transfiguring us to become dazzling witnesses of God’s unchanging Glory.
Let Us Pray
Glorious Lord Jesus You lead us from the dark valley of tears to the joyful heights of the Presence of our Father God who loves us. It is in Your Presence alone, O God, that our darkness would be turned to light, our mourning to rejoicing, our sickness to health, our helplessness to power. We offer to You the impossibilities of our situations and the insecurity of the future. We have labored and are overburdened. Lord, we pray, lead us by Your Spirit to get a glimpse of the Promise of Love You have for us.