glorious mysteries #1: the transfiguration

For Friday, March 19, I open my lenten reflections with the first of the Glorious Mysteries (in the scriptural series that I use): the Transfiguration of Jesus.

From the gospel of Mark, the New Revised Standard Version reads thus:

The Transfiguration glass, by Lawrence OP
The Transfiguration glass, by Lawrence OP

Six days later,
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John,
and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.

And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no one on earth could bleach them.

And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses,
who were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus,
‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here;
let us make three dwellings,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’

He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them,
and from the cloud there came a voice,
‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’

Suddenly when they looked around,
they saw no one with them any more,
but only Jesus.

You can find other translations here.

Traditionally, we hear the Transfiguration each year on the last Sunday before Lent.  After the Transfiguration, Jesus no longer wandered about the Middle East, but turned his face toward Jerusalem, toward his triumphal entry (which we celebrate on Palm Sunday), and then toward his betrayal, arrest, and execution.

Mount Tabor, by seetheholyland
Mount Tabor, by seetheholyland

Many of the miracle stories in the gospels begin with Jesus trying to take some quiet time.  He tries to withdraw by himself or with his apostles, but he is followed, and then Jesus has sympathy for his broken brothers and sisters, so he begins to heal them.  In this story, though, Jesus does manage to withdraw, with three of his closest friends.  Jesus and Peter and James and John climb up the mountain (traditionally, Mount Tabor, though possibly Mount Hermon), and there this strange thing happens.  Jesus is suffused with light, overshadowed by a cloud, and claimed by God.

If you’ve never thought about it before, I invite you to wonder with me on this question: When did Jesus know who he was?  When did he find out that he was the Messiah, the chosen savior of Israel?  When did he come to terms with being not only human but also divine?  When did he first realize that that he was God?

Stairs in Caesarea Philippi, by Intern in Israel
Stairs in Caesarea Philippi, by Intern in Israel

You are not the first person to wonder about this, so I invite you into the question.  We can never really know the answer in this world, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for reflection.  When did he know?  Did Jesus always know, from birth?  Did Mary tell him when he was a little boy?  How about when he went to the Temple in Jerusalem with his family, and stayed there talking scripture with the rabbis?  Was it when the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism?  Was it when the Adversary said as much to him, during his temptation in the desert?  Was it later than that?  Did Jesus know before Jerusalem, or did he only find out while he was praying in Gethsemane?

I’ve considered each one of these possibilities before, but my fondest theory is that it was at the Transfiguration where Jesus learned the fullness of his identity and purpose… and perhaps where Peter, James, and John learned it as well.  This is my son, the Beloved.  Listen to him!

Joy, by Yogendra174
Joy, by Yogendra174

There is one other special bit about this story… when we read the Transfiguration story, when we practice contemplation on the scripture like a lectio divina or an Ignatian meditation, the story becomes our story as well.  We, too, are standing on the mountain.  We, too, see the shining light and the cloud, and we, too, hear the voice from the sky.  And we, too, are named by God: this is my child, my Beloved.  Listen to them!

Because the truth of the matter is this: You are God’s child.  You are the beloved.  You are worth listening to.  You have been called by God, and you have a unique and special identity and purpose.

Doesn’t that feel wonderful?  Thanks be to God!