“Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:4)
For us to understand today’s Feast, we would need to take our minds to the events immediately preceding it as recorded in Matthew chapter 16. Jesus and his disciples were in Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples a question of his identity. Peter, led by the Spirit answers correctly: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus gives Peter the keys of the kingdom but immediately begins to talk about his imminent suffering and death. The disciples are completely confused.
Peter tries to remonstrate with Jesus but gets a shocker when Jesus says: “Get behind me, Satan.” In fact, going further, Jesus declares: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). To deny oneself is to deliberately choose not to be controlled by the flesh but by the Holy Spirit. It is not just following the narrow path but carrying the cross as well. In fact, following Jesus is a battle against the self, it involves taking in a lot of pain; it is not easy at all yet this is exactly what Jesus wants.
To clear their confusion, Jesus took his closest disciples up to the Mountain and was transfigured. This way, Jesus sought to strengthen their faith – to show that beyond the battle of self-denial, beyond the tears, beyond the beatings, persecutions and agonies of the cross, there was something so beautiful, so resplendent and priceless in the end.
Having witnessed the Transfiguration, Peter could then write boldly as we read in today’s second reading: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty…we ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.”
I often hear people say, “after all, no one has gone to heaven and come back to tell us how it is.” But that is exactly what Peter is saying here. He saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears! In our first reading also, Daniel reports his vision of heaven; referring to God as the Ancient of Days. Dear friends, heaven is not simply a figment of the imagination. Heaven is real; it is worth building permanent tents to live in.
The thought of heaven should come as a motivation to keep us going in the right direction. We should, from time to time, go to a quiet place to meditate on heaven; to picture ourselves in the presence of God as Daniel saw and like Peter, John and James experienced on the Mountain. This exercise would help us in taking our attention from this passing world of pain where nothing lasts, nothing brings true happiness and nothing is real. St. Peter says, “You will do well to be attentive to it, as a lamp shining in a dark place…”
Let us not wander about in the darkness thinking that this world is all there is to existence. When we feel like giving up due to the trials and difficulties we face, let us remember the Transfiguration; let us continue to hold on tightly to our faith and never give up.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, when I am down, troubled and confused, give me the privilege of experiencing your Transfiguration again. Amen.
Bible Study: Daniel 7:9-14, 2nd Peter 1:16 to 19, Matthew 17:1-9).