The transfiguration narrative is the ultimate revelation upon God’s mountain. “Listen to him” (Mk 9:8). This is an open and public statement from God to the disciples and to all Christians today.
It is the second of three decisive acclamations of Jesus’ unique identity in Mark’s gospel. The first was at his baptism “You are my Son the Beloved…” (Mk 1:11); the last is the centurion’s statement at his death “In truth this man was a Son of God” (Mk 15:39). In each of these episodes the atmosphere is revelatory of Jesus’ identity as Messiah.
The transfiguration is the turning point of Jesus’ ministry. Until now, Jesus had been teaching and healing. Now He will begin His journey to Jerusalem, where He will die.
Many themes emerge from this narrative “Six days later;” (Mk 9:2) “a high mountain…where they could be alone by themselves.” (Mk 9:2) “Elijah… with Moses” (Mk 9:4) “Let’s make three tents,” (Mk 9:5) “A cloud came, covering them in shadow;” (Mk 9:7) and “A voice from the cloud” (Mk 9:8).
The transfiguration experience establishes Jesus’ glorious identity as the Son of God. Mark presents the transfiguration as a preview of the final coming of God’s Kingdom and Jesus’ eternal glory. It transitions us from the gospel’s progressive revelation of the power and presence of the Good News of God’s Kingdom in Jesus, to Lent’s progressive focus on Jesus’ journey to suffering and the Cross.
“Six days later;” (Mk 9:2). This timing refers to the six days immediately after Peter’s declaration “You are the Christ”(Mk 8:30) and Jesus’ discourse with his disciples on their way to Caesarea Philippi, during which He made an open announcement of His impending rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. This discourse was preparation for His disciples regarding His impending suffering and death.
This begs the question: Are we Christians, who having heard and accepted Jesus’ call to discipleship, willing to take up our cross and follow Him wherever He leads, even to the Cross?
“…up a high mountain…where they could be alone by themselves (Mk 9:2). Jesus took with him Peter, James and John. These comprised His inner circle of disciples who accompanied Him on special occasions e.g. the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, Jairus’ daughter and other important occasions. The high mountain is symbolically reminiscent of a wilderness experience, a place of isolation, of solitary prayer, where one encounters God, is strengthened and bolstered for the journey ahead.
It was upon this high mountain “in their presence he was transfigured” (Mk 9:3). The transfiguration gave a glimpse of Christ’s divine glory as the Son of God, manifesting through His humanity. His countenance changed; He assumed a mighty splendour in that His face shone like the sun and so enveloped His garments that they “became dazzlingly white” (Mk 9:4).
This event affirmed beyond any shadow of doubt, that Jesus was the Messiah. His predictions of suffering and death did not constitute the whole picture. Yes, Jesus will undergo rejection, suffering and death, as will His followers but our final destination like His, will be victory and glory, as was His resurrection.
“Elijah …Moses…were talking with Jesus” (Mk 9:3). No doubt they were sent to minister to Jesus in His time of preparation for what lay before Him in Jerusalem. There is some significance regarding the presence of Elijah and Moses. Moses represented the Law, and Elijah, the Prophets, which must now give way to Jesus and the new covenant.
“…It is wonderful for us to be here: let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mk 9: 5), was all Peter could say after this surreal experience. Obviously, he was confused; he had recently identified Jesus as the Messiah, now he calls him Rabbi (Mk 9:5).
“And a cloud came overshadowing them” (Mk 9: 7). The transfiguration would be incomplete without the cloud. Clouds signify the presence of God, something of an overshadowing.
There are many instances in scripture of clouds representing the presence of God; clouds overshadowed the Israelites through their wilderness in the desert, at Mt Sinai when Moses ascended to receive the Law, and Mary was overshadowed which resulted in the conception of Jesus. God speaks from the cloud, this time His words were “This is my son the Beloved. Listen to him” (Mk 9:8).
The transfiguration experience gives a greater understanding of the deity of Christ. It demonstrates a foretaste of Jesus’ divine glory. It is the reassurance in suffering that resurrection victory will come to all who believe.
The Gospel Meditations for February were done by June Renie, a retired law librarian and a graduate of the Catholic Bible Institute. She is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist at St Anthony’s parish in Petit Valley.