The Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor

By Marta Alves

Searching trying to find information about the transfiguration of Jesus in Mount Tabor, I found a great resource  in The Teachings Of Pope John Paul II On Cd-Rom.1  Most of the information compiled in this article is from that source. 

Lent is a preparation for the Paschal Mystery 

In John Paul II homily 1 on March 15, 1987 he expresses:  “The fact that the Church, each year, recalls the Lord's Transfiguration in the Lenten liturgy, on the Second Sunday to be precise, shows us that Lent is a preparation for the paschal mystery in its fullness; not only for the Passion but also for the Resurrection. In substance, the theophany of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor prepares the Apostles for the Cross on Golgotha in the perspective of the Resurrection. Christ asks that the secret be kept concerning the theme of the event of Mount Tabor ‘until the Son of Man has risen from the dead’”.

Christians are called to be Transfigured

In John Paul II homily 2 on March 15, 1992, Christians are called to be transfigured.  The following are excerpts of that homily: 

On Tabor, while Jesus was at prayer, his face changed in appearance, his clothing became dazzling white and two men, Elijah and Moses, appeared at his side, and he was conversing with them about "his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem" (Lk 9:31), that is, about his coming passion and death. Moses and Elijah are famous figures of the Old Testament: the former is the guide and lawmaker of the people, the other the prophet of the fire which destroys iniquity; both of them prefigure the Messiah, the new deliverer, the one who brings the new fire of salvation to earth. The beauty of the vision captivates the three Apostles. Peter wants to prolong the vision as long as possible and exclaims: "Master, . . . let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Luke 9:33). But while he was speaking thus a cloud came and covered them. Seeing nothing, they were afraid, but they were comforted by the Father's voice. 2

 

       Tabor is the mystery of glory and passion. In fact, before describing the transfiguration, St. Luke reports Jesus' announcement of his death: "The Son of man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised" (Lk 9:33). In the transfiguration scene too Christ's death is the topic of conversation with Moses and Elijah. This death is called his "exodus," that is, his departure: Jesus "will depart," going from the passion to glory, from the earthly pilgrimage to the heavenly triumph. 2

 

       The preface for this Sunday also recalls the link between the Lord's passion and glorification: "On your holy mountain he revealed himself in glory in the presence of his disciples. He had already prepared them for his approaching death. He wanted to teach them . . . that the promised Christ had first to suffer and so come to the glory of his resurrection". It is this last aspect of the mystery, which prevails in the transfiguration. 2

 

However, the episode of Jesus' transfiguration is also the source of a particularly meaningful faith, a step on the journey of faith on which the Lord so patiently guided his disciples. Faith is the choice for God above and beyond visible things. Faith is belonging to him with all one's being. Faith permits a person to see everything with God's eyes. Without faith there is no pleasing God. Jesus openly asked them to believe in him. And the Apostles, after so much hesitation, finally embraced the faith totally and irreversibly, to the supreme witness of their blood. 2

 

Apostles witnessed the transfiguration 

In John Paul II homily 3 on August 6, 1995 he shares the joy that Peter, James and John must have felt when they witnessed the transfiguration:

"Master, it is well that we are here"
Luke 9:33

What joy is greater than that of contemplating Christ in his glory? Our eternal happiness shall consist precisely in this "face to face" vision of the Incarnate Word, in the light of the Trinity. 3

During the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor, Peter, James and John had been able to experience in advance the joy and the meeting of the beatific vision of paradise. "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty", Peter would say  (2 Pet 1:16), and John, for his part, would attest: "we have seen with our eyes, . . . we have looked upon and touched with our hands . . . the word of life" (1 Jn 1:1). 3

During the Transfiguration, as at other important occasions in the Lord's earthly life, it is Peter who speaks, making himself the spokesman for the other two apostles: Peter, the one who expresses the faith of the apostles, the faith of the church. 3

However, the episode of Jesus' transfiguration is also the source of a particularly meaningful faith, a step on the journey of faith on which the Lord so patiently guided his disciples. Faith is the choice for God above and beyond visible things. Faith is belonging to him with all one's being. Faith permits a person to see everything with God's eyes. Without faith there is no pleasing God. Jesus openly asked them to believe in him. And the Apostles, after so much hesitation, finally embraced the faith totally and irreversibly, to the supreme witness of their blood. 3

  The Transfiguration as a foretaste of our Christian victory over Death

 In John Paul II homily 4 on March 7, 1993 he sees the transfiguration as a foretaste of our Christian victory over death:

 

"Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them" (Mt 17:1-2) 4

 

"Lord, it is good that we are here"

Mt 17:4

 

We can imagine the three disciples' astonishment at the vision. They were used to seeing Jesus in the humble aspect of his daily humanity and how great must have been their awe and emotion at seeing the splendor of a transfigured Jesus! Peter's offer to pitch three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah, expresses his desire to make this moment of grace and uncontainable joy last as long as possible. 4

 

"Lord, it is good that we are here"! On Tabor Jesus gave his favorite disciples an anticipation of the glory of the resurrection, a glimpse of heaven on earth, a taste of "paradise".4

 

While Peter "was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him"' (Mt 17:5). It is a true manifestation of God, which recalls the "theophanies" experienced by the patriarchs of old, and it is similar to what took place on the banks of the Jordan after the Redeemer's baptism. As then, here too a trinitarian presence is revealed: the voice of the Father, the person of the incarnate Son and the shining cloud, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, like the dove which rested on Christ when he was baptized by his fore-runner. The Apostles' emotions change: their joy is replaced by a great fear; they fall prostrate to the ground. "Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and do not be afraid'. And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone" (Mt 17:7-8). 4

 

Transfiguration shows goal of our existence.

 

 The mystery of the transfiguration takes place at a very precise moment in Jesus' preaching, as he begins to confide to the disciples the necessity of his going up "to Jerusalem and suffer greatly. . . and be killed and on the third day be raised" (Mt 16:21). Reluctantly they hear the first announcement of the passion and before stressing it again and confirming it, the divine Master wants to give them a proof of his total rootedness in the will of the Father so that they do not waver in the face of the scandal of the cross. In fact, the passion and death will be the way through which the heavenly Father will have his "beloved Son" achieve glory, risen from the dead. From now on this will also be the disciples' way. No one will come to the light except through the cross, the symbol of the suffering which afflicts human existence. Thus the cross is transformed into an instrument for the expiation of the sins of all humanity. United with his Lord in love, the disciple participates in his redemptive passion. Therefore, in today's reading St. Paul exhorts Timothy in these words: "Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life" (2 Tm 1:8-9). For the believer suffering is nothing but a temporary passage, a transitory condition. Jesus, the Apostle stresses, "has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel" (2 Tm 1:10). 4

 

The goal of our existence is therefore as shining as the transfigured countenance of the Messiah: in him is salvation, happiness, glory, unlimited love of God. How, therefore, could we not be prepared to suffer for such a goal? It finds meaning in our effort to conform our weak nature to the demands of goodness. It takes into consideration the physical and spiritual limitations of our person and of our daily social relationships, unfortunately marred by selfishness and sin, which make our spiritual journey taxing. 4

 

Finally, the transfiguration offers us prospects for a change which is both fundamental and supernatural, of a victory and proclamation of the passover of Christ, an announcement of the cross and resurrection. It is the transfigured Christ, the Christ whom after his resurrection the Apostles and so many other witnesses of his resurrection will see with their own eyes. They are witnesses of the newness of the world inaugurated by his resurrection and foretold by his transfiguration. 4

 

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus has given us the means to be victorious in fighting the good fight of faith in fidelity to his word and humble adherence to the cross. Assiduously listening to the Gospel, celebrating the saving mystery in the sacraments and the Eucharistic liturgy, we become capable of proclaiming and bearing witness to Christian newness with a generous, prompt readiness. Not by ourselves, however, but as part of the Body of Christ which is the Church, the universal sacrament of salvation. The Church is the great community of those who believe in Jesus Christ, led by the Pastors he has chosen. In his love for mankind he constituted the Twelve as his witnesses and entrusted to them the task of safe-guarding the faith and continuing his work under the guidance of Peter. The Apostles and their successors gave life to the particular Churches, foremost among which is our Church of Rome, the Diocese of Peter's Successor. 4

Footnotes 

  1. THE TEACHINGS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II ON CD-ROM © 1998 Harmony Media Inc. U.S.A. “Pope John Paul II, Homily of March 15, 1987.”
  1. THE TEACHINGS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II ON CD-ROM © 1998 Harmony Media Inc. U.S.A. “Pope John Paul II, Homily of March 15, 1992.”
  1. THE TEACHINGS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II ON CD-ROM © 1998 Harmony Media Inc. U.S.A. “Pope John Paul II, Homily of August 6, 1995.”
  1. THE TEACHINGS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II ON CD-ROM © 1998 Harmony Media Inc. U.S.A. “Pope John Paul II, Homily of March 7, 1993.”

Glossary 

Theophany-  A manisfestation of God to man.

Transfiguration- The occasion described in the first three Gospels (Mt 17:1-13; Mk 9:2-13; Lk 9:28-36) when the divine glory of Christ was shown in a comprehensible way to the Apostles Peter, James, and John, through a change in His outward appearance and the presence with Him of Moses and Elijah. (Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.L. Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Dictionary. Copyright © 1993, Our Sunday Visitor.)

 

Written by Marta Alves - LEAP OF FAITH- www.faithleap.org - 031600  

 

 

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