Today’s feast of the Transfiguration presents the full force of God’s power. In the rare moments when humans are permitted to encounter God’s intense fullness, the human reaction is the same: fear. The prophet Daniel is so frightened by his visions that he falls at on his face in terror. Today’s Gospel reports that Peter, James, and John were “very much afraid” when they saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain. They too fell prostrate in fear. These mighty revelations of God’s brilliant majesty have a paralyzing effect on those who witness them. God does not prefer to terrify us, however. God chooses only rare moments to reveal the divine glory, and then sends witnesses to the rest of us so we can believe without fear. Saint Peter’s letter advises us to be attentive to God’s witnesses. Their testimony is true. Their words renew our hearts and transform our lives.
The Eye of the Beholder
Matthew’s Gospel reveals that Jesus’ face “shone like the sun” during his transfiguration. The evangelist is using a figure of speech, of course, but we can imagine what beholding the Transfiguration might have been like for Peter, James, and John. The brightness of Jesus’ face is compared to the sun. Earth is about ninety-three million miles distant from the sun, yet if we look directly at it, we suffer retinal burns, permanent eye damage, or severe vision loss. What is it like to behold the brightness of Jesus? The disciples were terrified. Perhaps looking at Jesus in his glory feels as dangerous as staring at a solar eclipse. Sure enough, the disciples hid their eyes, falling at on their faces.
Although the disciples’ experience on the mountain was frightening, our merciful Lord does not want fear to overshadow the miracle they witnessed. Jesus touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” God’s words from the cloud overhead were similarly encouraging: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” God lovingly reassures us, con rming Jesus’ identity as the Son of Man and inviting us to pay attention to the One who comes to save us.
Saint Peter, an eyewitness to the event, declares that his testimony is “altogether reliable.” We can depend on his word. Peter hopes his words act like a “lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Thanks be to God, we can rely on the life-changing experiences of others to help transform our own lives. We may not ever have intimidating mountaintop revelations like Peter, James, and John, so we listen to them as witnesses of God’s majesty. All of our readings today remind us that God gives us the Word to believe and live, and sends us the words of Daniel, Peter, and Matthew to encourage us.
© J. S. Paluch Co.