I encourage us all to read again, the Transfiguration in Matthew. I find that any time I speak to my dear brother Luke, I am enlightened in a different way the next time I read the bible. Many of us have not been gifted the opportunity to be theologians and it helps to know one! The most important truths in the bible are clear and no nonsense because God desires us to hear Him clearly. Often times however, we miss the mark when we read the bible and get caught up in so many other goings on in the fantastical or sometimes long, stories. Read again, and then read this post, you won't regret learning a few things.
Seeing God in the Transfiguration
Although the Transfiguration was by now some time ago, I have been reflecting much on this story of the Transfiguration in Matthew 17. This is an exciting reading--especially theologically--because we get to see the divinity of Jesus unveiled. In some sense, we get to see a glimpse of what Moses only hoped for--to see the face of God. This is the aim of prayer and our whole spiritual life, to know and see God both in this life and in the Kingdom to come! We see an unfolding of that aim as we walk with the disciples up the mountain of the Transfiguration...
"Holiness" in the Jewish tradition means to be “set apart”
It begins as Jesus takes his three closest disciples Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain where they are clearly set apart; "holiness" in the Jewish tradition means to be “set apart” from the world for God’s purpose. In the spiritual life, this happens as we find our vocational calling, as we become less worldly, and hopefully as we grow in virtue. These steps while of God and important and necessary, are not enough--we are set apart so that we can go farther into God's love.
The apostles then see Jesus transfigured before them, they see Christ shining forth like the sun and his clothes becoming white as light. Imagine how they must have felt! Are there not these such moments in the spiritual life where the light of God captivates our attention? These are the moments in prayer or at Mass where we feel on fire with the faith. In these moments, perhaps we are consoled; lifted out of our worldly day for a moment or more or inspired and comforted. In these moments we feel that God is great and we know it. Yet, even still God will not be content to leave us here. We know of God but not really who He is, and we are yet to enter into relationship with him.
At this point, Moses and Elijah appear. Moses represents the law as he was the one tasked with giving it to the people of Israel. Contrast Moses who dictated the law with Christ who is its very author, in so doing, we understand Christ a little more. With them is Elijah who was the most renowned of the prophets, the mouthpiece of the Lord. Christ however not only speaks for God but as God, as “one speaking with authority.” In our spiritual development we can come to understand Christ’s role in our lives as the moral rule and voice of God in our hearts, and as the Gospel says “it is good that we are here.”
Putting out into the deep is part of God's plan for your life
Up to this point, the spiritual life has been comfortable even if exciting. The apostles share this feeling as they sit atop the mountain, but this has all been preparation to put out into the deep. As we really come to know God, as we really see who Christ is, it becomes frightening. We may be content when suddenly, “lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said ‘This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.’”
As we begin to truly believe that Christ is not just man but also the infinite God, we see that it is not enough to hold Christ just as a moral compass or as a comforting voice in troubled times. Christianity is much deeper and much more difficult. “Love your enemy.” “Take up your cross and follow me.” “Be perfect as my heavenly father is perfect.” These commands are not optional, God really does want us to fulfill them in all of their difficulty. Just as in the Gospel, when we understand Christ’s true identity, it makes us fall on our faces “as though dead” which is what the apostles did! At some point, the faith life can become anything but easy, yet still most certainly “good.” That is because we are not alone; it is here that finally we are ready to receive Christ’s mercy.
Jesus speaking with the same divine voice which said “Let there be light” a voice which causes the effect just as the words are spoken, Christ says “rise and have no fear.” These words are made a reality in us as we draw close to God. Yet even here this is not the end of spiritual life.
Do we seek "only Jesus" as our end in life?
It is not enough simply to be set apart, or to see the shining beauty of Christ. It is not enough to see Jesus as a moral example or comforting voice. We may even get to hear the voice of God speaking to us directly, yet none of these things are what God wants to give us in the spiritual life, they are steps towards a greater end. “When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but only Jesus. “
Our aim is not to live virtuous lives, or to have any particular spiritual experience, even the sacraments themselves are set to this end, we are to have no one and no one thing but “only Jesus.”
Thomas Aquinas was perhaps the Church’s most brilliant theologian. At the end of his life amidst writing his great masterpiece “The Summa Theologica” God spoke to him saying, “you have written well of me Thomas, what would you have in return?” Thomas responded simply, “only you.”