Our text: Mt. 17: 1-9.
One day, Jesus summons Peter, James and John and leads them up a tall mountain. There, perhaps in the calm of late morning, he prays. The disciples probably try to pray, too; though I doubt they had learned, by this point, to pray in the deep prayer of the heart that Jesus often practiced.
On this day, as Jesus prays, Peter, James and John see something they will never forget; something they won’t even speak about for months. Jesus is transfigured before them. He is metamorphosed, as the Greek puts it; his form changes. His face shines like the sun; his clothes become dazzling white, like light. We might say that his spiritual nature, invisible in the day to day, becomes visible on this day.
The disciples become aware that Moses and Elijah stand there, conversing with Jesus. Peter finds this remarkable, wants to welcome them, offers to build a tent for each of them. But then a cloud comes, a luminous cloud. It puts them all in its shadow. This luminous cloud is an echo of the glory cloud that overshadowed the tent of meeting when God descended upon the people of Israel, early in their march across the desert (cf. Ex 40:35).
A voice comes from that cloud – the Father’s voice. The voice says: This is my son the beloved, in whom I delight: listen to him. (Mt. 17:5)
This moment, atop a high mountain, far from human eyes and ears, is a revelation of the Father’s love toward the Son. It is a manifestation, a making visible, of what happens to a human being that stands, fully known, fully given, fully exposed to the presence of God.
It’s a revelation of the Trinity. We hear The Father’s voice. The Spirit we see present in the luminous cloud. The Son stands available, faithful, receiving the Father’s love. He is transfigured by it, revealed by it; he is an image, an icon of the Father’s radiance and light.
The Father says to Jesus’ still learning disciples: this is my Son, the one on whom my love rests. The one I gaze upon with love. The one in whom I delight.
What we are seeing here is the impress, unveiled, of the Father’s love upon Jesus’ humanity. We see what it looks like for a human being to bear the rays of the Father’s love. To be tissued of that love; to be the child of that love; to be like that love. If we could see what this spiritual truth looks like in human flesh, we would see what the disciples saw. A face that shines like the sun. Clothes, draped upon his skin, made luminous from the underlying light.
What is the message here for me?
Here we might ask: If the Father looks with radiant and radiating love upon the Son, how does Jesus look upon us and what might be the impact of His love?
Well, Jesus tells us frankly in Jn. 15: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you” (Jn. 15:9). He loves us, in other words, with the same love with which the Father loves Him. And then again in Jn. 17: “Your name I have made known to them, and I will make it known so that the love with which you have loved me might be in them and I in them” (Jn. 17:26).
This is staggering news. In his Baptism, the Father gazes on Jesus in the Spirit and says ‘This is my Son, the beloved (Mt. 3:17).’ In the Transfiguration, beneath a luminous cloud, He says this is my ‘Son the beloved, in whom I delight (Mt. 17:5).’ This deep love from Father to Son, this love that elsewhere Jesus says has its origin before the foundation of the world (Jn. 17:24); this eternal, divine love; this same love Jesus pours out upon on his disciples – upon you and me.
That is the message for us today. Jesus, who has stood before his disciples transfigured, luminous, radiant, the physical expression of a child of the Father’s uncreated love, says to us that this same love is extended to us. That He sees us, gazes upon us with this love. He makes known this love through His word. He transmits it to us in the very tissue and marrow of his being in the Eucharist. The being that He received in love and gift from the Father, he gives to us in love and gift. He draws us into the communion that he shares with the Father.
St. Paul has something to say about this dynamic. I quote him below, but here’s what I think he says. The Holy Spirit transfigures us into the image of Jesus. How? We are given to gaze upon the glory of Jesus, with unveiled face; which is to say: directly, in the full measure of who He is. This happens when we take His word deep to heart; it happens when we receive His being in the Eucharist. In each moment, with the sight of the heart piercing the dark – this, the seeing of faith – in these moments, the soul gazes upon the person of Christ. This gaze, which is a mutual gazing, forms us, from one pulse of love to another – from one gaze upon glory to the next – in an ongoing way, until the full measure of love, the full measure of Christ, takes root in our souls. Until we become his children, the Father’s children, in mind, in heart, in act – which is the very reason for which we were created.
Here is St. Paul saying essentially the same thing:
“All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is Spirit . . . For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor, 3:18, 2 Cor 4:7)
The word translated here as ‘transform’ is metamorphose in Greek. Transfigure. It’s the same word used to describe the process of change, metamorphosis, transfiguration in love, that happened to Jesus and became visible to the disciples atop the high mountain. That same transfiguration of humanity in the Father’s love that happened to Jesus can happen to us. It is what we were created for.
How can I take this to prayer?
“I have made known to them your name and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me might be in them and I in them.” (Jn 17:26)
Father, on the holy mountain, you make visible the impress of your love upon the humanity of Jesus. Through your gaze of love, which is the fire of your Spirit, you form me in His image. You make me who I was created to be. Amen. Let it be to me according to your great love.