The gospel for today is Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. I understand the desire of Jesus to take time away in a quiet place to be alone as it seems he often did. I might have chosen the Sea of Galilee as my getaway, but the hills might have been a better bet for Jesus as a total escape from people. One could wonder why on this particular day he chose to take Peter, James and John with him. Did he know what was going to happen? Was he afraid he would need help if the depth of experience got too intense? Or did he just have a desire to have some quiet time with less than a dozen companions?
The Transfiguration story appears in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the accounts differ only slightly. As usual, Peter jumps right in with a suggestion that they stay (forever?) on the mountain. He’s willing to erect shelters for Jesus and his guests, Moses and Elijah, so the vision must have presented those ancestors in a decidedly dense way. (How did Peter recognize who they were?) The disciples didn’t seem too shaken by all this – even the fact that Jesus was appearing in an altered state, until they heard the voice of God telling them to pay attention to Jesus, God’s Beloved. It was then that they fell prostrate in fear so that Jesus had to come and touch them (so they could tell they were still alive?) and tell them not to be afraid. At that point the event was ended and everything returned to “normal.”
I often think about the stricture Jesus put on the disciples on the way down the mountain, telling them not to share what they had seen with anyone. I wonder how difficult that knowing was for them and if/how it changed their lives. Did they feel more protective of Jesus? Did this experience make them wonder more deeply about his experiences when he left them to pray? Did their dreams of greatness as the ones closest to the Messiah increase? Or were they confused and bothered by the statement at the end of this text that says: As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
This is all conjecture, of course, and we know that the gospels were not written down until years after the events happened so the writers had a post-Resurrection understanding by that time. My point in all this is – as usual – to look for application to our own lives. Sometimes it isn’t easy to keep the confidences with which people trust us, especially if the news is something sensational or a “tidbit” that others would love to know. We live in a world where gossip reigns and it is difficult to tell truth from fiction sometimes. If I had been one of the favored apostles on that mountain, would I have been able to hold my tongue and thereby protect Jesus – even if I wanted to share what I saw as an event that showed how amazing Jesus was? How difficult would it have been for me to come down that mountain and not go to any of the other nine to share the story? How would my relationship with someone change if I learned of some ability (or disability) that made them more (or less) acceptable to others? So many questions…so much to ask myself, looking for the deepest motivations and clearest truths of my heart, hoping for the touch of Jesus that says, “Do not be afraid.”