On the Mount of the Transfiguration

On the Mount of the Transfiguration August 6, 2021


A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark:

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother 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 fuller on earth could bleach them. 

Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, 
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents: 
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; 
from the cloud came a voice, 
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves, 
questioning what rising from the dead meant.


Jesus went up the mountain with Peter, James and John. Peter is the Rock, the one who never stops talking and bosses the others around. He even tried to boss Jesus around, more than once.  He ordered Jesus not to talk about His upcoming death; He will demand not to have his feet washed and then to have his head and hands washed. He will swear that he’ll never deny the Lord, but he will. He will deny the Lord three times in the space of a few hours, and then run away bawling. He will be the biggest failure and traitor of the remaining eleven, after Judas leaves. James and John are the sons of thunder,  the ones who asked Jesus’s permission to call down fire to incinerate a village of unbelievers. They demanded to sit on Jesus’s right and left side when He comes into His glory, but Jesus only said they would drink of His cup, and they will. These three are not shy. These three always have something to say. These three think they know exactly who Jesus is, and they have it all figured out.

At the top of the mountain, Jesus is transfigured before them: dazzling, bright, clean beyond human power to make clean. His appearance is so amazing that they only notice Moses and Elijah as an afterthought. And there is Jesus, their friend and leader, the one they thought they had all figured out, conversing with Moses and Elijah.

Peter starts babbling something about putting up tents. At this moment he’s the only one who can even open his mouth, and he hasn’t got a single good idea. But he’s the type who always has to say something. As for the Sons of Thunder, they are silent. All three are terrified. This isn’t what they expected. This isn’t anything that they can comprehend. God is not a man. A man can’t be God. Moses saw God only from behind, and his face became so terrible that no one could look upon it– but he still was unworthy to enter the Promised Land. He died in the desert and was buried. Elijah called down fire from Heaven to prove who was the true God. In the end, he was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire. Everyone looked for him, but he was never seen again. And here they all are together: earth, Heaven, the desert of exile, the Promised land, the Law, the Prophets, the dead man, the man who didn’t die, the one too terrible to look upon unveiled, the one who was taken away by angels back on earth.  In the middle is their friend, a man, radiating the Glory of God.

This is all completely impossible.

Then the Glory Cloud surrounds them so no one can see at all. From the cloud comes the Voice of God: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

These three are the apostles who don’t listen.  They talk. They brag. They boss around. They ask for outlandish privileges. They’d like to call down fire. They never listen.

But they are listening now.

Then the vision is over, and all they see is Jesus, alone with them.

He takes them back down the mountain to where ordinary life resumes– normal things, things they can understand, things they can talk and brag about, things they could call down fire to incinerate if only Jesus would let them.

One day, Jesus will take Peter, James and John with Him to another place, and ask them to watch and pray for an hour, but they won’t be able to do it. They will fall asleep.

Then Jesus will go up another mountain, and there He will be lifted up from the Earth. The apostles will again see a sight too terrible to look upon. There will be Heaven and Earth united, the desert of suffering and the Promised Land, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. the One who cannot die will die, a cloud will overshadow them all, and the righteous dead will come out of their graves to terrify those who haven’t died.

Jesus tells them, these three most talkative apostles, not to say a word about this– not until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. And for once, they don’t say a word. They are busy pondering what He means.

What does it mean, to rise from the dead?

No one can rise from the dead.

This is completely impossible.



Image via Pixabay. 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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