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.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Usually there are two reactions to this story: either “WHAT??? that is the weirdest story ever?!?!?!?” or “ooh, cool…” Occasionally you might meet someone who can talk coherently about how this story is a wonderful personal revelation of God’s glory in Jesus, and how it feeds their spiritual life, filling them with reflected light.
But the disciples appear to be more in the first camp…they have no idea what is going on, they’re terrified, and they say ridiculous things, trying to keep the moment static forever (or at least until they can figure it out).
First, a quick history lesson.
Moses was (is) the greatest prophet of the Hebrew people, leading them out of slavery and to the promised land, reflecting the glory of God (literally–when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to talk to God, he came down with a face that shined so brightly he had to cover it up so as not to freak people out), bringing the law, doing amazing signs and wonders, etc. He is the archetype of a faithful person, the representative of the law. One of Moses’ main locations for conferencing with God was on Mount Sinai.
Elijah was also a great prophet, who did amazing things bringing the people back from the idolatrous ways to the worship of the one true God. He healed people, performed miracles, and was a major conduit for the word and spirit of God. He spoke to God, had a number of learning opportunities, and defeated the false prophets–all on mountains (Mt. Sinai and Mt. Carmel, in particular). Elijah, according to the story, did not die but was taken up into heaven by God’s fiery chariots, and will come again to prepare the way for the Messiah.
So, many scholars will point out that for Jesus to be standing on a mountain (sound familiar?), conferring with the two greatest of the greats of Israel, tells us that he’s an important dude. For Jesus to be transfigured so that his glory shines through, while talking to these two characters, suggests that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. And then the voice–echoing the voice of his baptism, re-marking him as the beloved, worthy of listening and following. In many ways, this is a story that shows us Jesus’s authority and divinity. He’s the real-deal, shiny and new yet backed by the old and trusted.
So what does this story have to do with our lives of faith? What is the good news for our time and place? What is the challenge for us?
How does this story affect your relationship with God? What do you think happened here, and how does it help you to follow Jesus?