The Transfiguration: Jesus’ Invitation
Updated: Aug 11, 2020
It begins as a journey up a mountain, apart. It is Jesus’ idea. It is at His invitation that they go. Not all of His friends, but some. Many are called, few are chosen. Peter is asked to come, along with James and, of course, John. Four friends, like brothers, on a hike.
At the summit of any hike the view—the beauty—is the prize. At the summit of this hike view gives way to vision, as the veil between heaven and earth disappears. It is as if Jesus said to them, “Come here. I want to show you something.” And as they gaze at Him, He becomes white as light. He gives them a preview of Easter Sunday morning: Jesus risen after freely laying down His life.
The Icon of the Transfiguration by Theophanes the Greek (1340-1410) depicts Jesus standing in glory in a white hot sun; or perhaps one could see a pure white host. He has the Moses, the personification of the law, to His right and Elijah, the prophet of prophets, to His left. I wonder if Moses and Elijah feel their hearts burning within them as they behold the living Torah – the Word of God made flesh.
While the upper half of the icon is filled with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, elevated and illuminated, the lower half captures the chosen three, falling to the ground and looking as if they would burrow into it if they could. Seeing two of their greatest heroes, who though long dead are clearly alive, seeing Jesus so mysteriously changed, and now hearing the Voice coming from the cloud…they are afraid. Is it a voice like “the sound of many waters” (Rev.1:15)? Or is it the quiet whisper Elijah heard on Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:12)?
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” I wonder if we can grasp the impact of those words upon these Jewish men. Against the lifelong background music of: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is Lord alone” (Deut. 6:4-7), the Shema now becomes, “Hear O Israel, the God who is One, has a Son.” This statement of the Father uncovers for Peter, James and John the true identity of Jesus as Son of God. Theophanes depicts one of the three Apostles upside down; perhaps upside down is exactly how they feel. But can you hear the delight in the Father’s declaration and can you feel the invitation to share in it? It is the delight of a father who has searched for His son through the days and through the nights of year upon century, starting from when Adam first hid. He is now found, and revealed in Jesus, the only begotten Son, the firstborn of many brethren (Rom. 8:29).
The Father, in the Spirit, reveals Jesus as beloved Son. And the Son, in the Spirit, in turn reveals the true nature of the Father—the Father who loves, the Father who is Love. It is as if Jesus, in this moment, heals the wound between son and Father. The first Adam hid in fear and maybe terror of God. The new Adam, by His total obedience, by His unfailing trust, provokes these healing and affirming words of a loving Father who is pleased and proud of his Son.
According to Saint John Paul II, the original sin can be understood as an attempt by the enemy to abolish fatherhood starting with the fatherhood of God, and thus, the “rays of fatherhood” have been obstructed since sin entered the world. Jesus now magnifies the rays of the Father’s love. As Jesus is transfigured we hear the voice of the Father, the Father from whom we have all hidden, and the Voice says “beloved.” In the brilliant white Light we begin to see things as they really are – as they could be.
The disciples, fallen in fear like Adam of old, arise at the touch of Jesus and see Him only (Mark 9:8), and perhaps now they know better what they are seeing. “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us,” Philip will beg at another time (Jn. 14:8). Yes, Jesus has come to show us the Father. The invitation up the mountain was an invitation into His own relationship with the Father. As if Jesus had said, “Come here, I want to introduce you to Someone, Someone who up to this point you have not truly known.”
Of all the biblical events that could have been chosen as an “icon of the religious life,” Saint John Paul II, in Vita Consecrata, his great encyclical on Consecrated Life, chose The Transfiguration as a mystery of special significance for all religious. It is this intimate and mystical event on the mountain that we’ve been given to ponder, and pass through, as an icon of our life. I too am invited on an arduous climb. I too am invited to know Jesus as He really is, so that I can know the Father as He really is.
This vocation, this unasked for and unmerited gift, is at heart a share in Jesus’ own relationship with the Father. It is a “oneness” with Himself that Jesus wants and offers, so that one with Him we can return to the Father—with Jesus, in Jesus and through Jesus.
- Mother Clare, CFR