THOSE who are skilful in the combat rejoice when the spectators clap their hands, and are roused to a glorious height of courage by the hope of the chaplets of victory: and so those whoso desire it is to be counted worthy of the divine gifts, and who thirst to be made partakers of the hope prepared for the saints, joyfully undergo combats for piety’s sake towards Christ, and lead elect lives, not setting store by a thankless indolence, nor indulging in a mean timidity, but rather manfully resisting every temptation, and setting at nought the violence of persecutions, while they count it gain to suffer in His behalf. For they remember that the blessed Paul thus writes, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy of the glory that is about to be revealed in us.”
Observe, therefore, how perfectly beautiful is the method which our Lord Jesus Christ uses here also for the benefit and edification of the holy Apostles. For He had said unto them, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross every day, and follow Me. For he that will save his life shall lose it; and he that will lose his life for My sake shall find it.” The commandment is indeed both for the salvation and honour of the saints, and the cause of the highest glory, and the means of perfect joy: for the choosing to suffer for the sake of Christ is not a thankless duty, but on the contrary makes us sharers in everlasting life, and the glory that is prepared. But as the disciples had not yet obtained power from on high, it probably occasionally happened, that they also fell into human weaknesses, and when thinking over with themselves any such saying as this, may have asked “how does a man deny himself?” or how having lost himself does he find himself again? And what reward will compensate those who thus suffer? Or of what gifts will they be made partakers? To rescue them therefore from such timid thoughts, and, so to speak, to mould them unto manliness, by begetting in them a desire of the glory about to be bestowed upon them, He says, “I say unto you, there are some of those standing here, who shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God.” Does He mean that the measure of their lives will be so greatly prolonged as even to reach to that time when He will descend from heaven at the. consummation of the world, to bestow upon the saints the kingdom prepared for them? Even this was possible for Him: for He is omnipotent: and there is nothing impossible or difficult to His all-powerful will. But by the kingdom of God He means the sight of the glory in which He will appear at His manifestation to the inhabitants of earth: for He will come in the glory of God the Father, and not in low estate like unto us. How therefore did He make those who had received the promise spectators of a thing so wonderful? He goes up into the mountain taking with Him three chosen disciples: and is transformed to so surpassing and godlike a brightness, that His garments even glittered with rays of fire, and seemed to flash like lightning. And besides, Moses and Elijah stood at Jesus’ side, and spake with one another of His departure, which He was about, it says, to accomplish at Jerusalem: by which is meant the mystery of the dispensation in the flesh; and of His precious suffering upon the cross. For it is also true that the law of Moses, and the word of the holy prophets, foreshewed the mystery of Christ: the one by types and shadows, painting it, so to speak, as in a picture; while the rest in manifold ways declared beforehand, both that in due time He would appear in our likeness, and for the salvation and life of us all, consent to suffer death upon the tree. The standing, therefore, of Moses and Elijah before Him, and their talking with one another, was a sort of representation, excellently displaying our Lord Jesus Christ, as having the law and the prophets for His body guard, as being the Lord of the law and the prophets, and as foreshown in them by those things which in mutual agreement they before proclaimed. For the words of the prophets are not at variance with the teachings of the law. And this I imagine was what Moses the most priestly and Elijah the most distinguished of the prophets were talking of with one another. Continue reading
The Transfiguration of the Lord can sound embarrassingly magical. Jesus goes up onto a mountain and his clothes become dazzlingly white. Prophets appear and talk to him. And then it is all over and Jesus tells his disciples to say nothing.
We should hold on to the absurdity of the incident. There is simply no reason for all this to have happened. In particular, there is no reason to put it into a gospel – the evangelist makes no capital out of it, it is simply there.
And this is the strength of the Transfiguration as an historical incident. There is no reason for anyone to have invented it. It is not central to the Christian case. It is not used to win arguments. There is only one reason to put it into the Gospel, and that is because it happened. It is one of those cases of the evangelists writing things down without knowing why they were important, and their very puzzlement is what makes the story so convincing.
Why, then, did it happen? Surely so that we could see and understand that Jesus is at once one of the prophets and the one that was prophesied by them; and that he is God, and lives for all eternity in a blaze of dazzling and unapproachable light.
The true miracle of the Transfiguration is not the shining face or the white garments, but the fact that for the rest of the time Jesus hid his glory so well.
[Reflection courtesy of Universalis.com]