Second Sunday of Lent
Matthew 17:1-9

by Anthony Bloom

There are two icons of Transfiguration that bring us two mutually completing messages. The one, by the hand of Saint Andrew Rublev, and the other one by Theophane the Greek.

Transfiguration by Saint Andrew Rublev
Transfiguration by Theophane the Greek

The icon of Rublev is all splendour; Christ appears to us in glory; the disciples are taken – as the Gospel tells us – with fear; they prostrate themselves, they loose awareness of where they are and what is happening.

The icon of Theophane is less brilliant, but it conveys us another message: not only of the fact that on the day of Transfiguration Christ appeared to His disciples all shining, all transfixed by the glory of His own Godhead; but it shows us how the rays of this light, the divine light, the very Divinity of God pouring itself out reaches His flesh, reaches His clothes, and beyond that touches all that is this mountain of the Transfiguration. And when a ray of light touches a stone or a rock, or a flower, they begin to shine in reply, as it were, to shine with eternal light; they commune to it but not passively; they receive it at the very heart of their being and become capable of shining themselves with eternal light; not to perfection yet, because perfection will be reached when God shall be all in all, at the end of time, but to the extent to which each creature of God can receive this grace, commune to God, and shine with the splendour of God Himself.


There are blessed or tragic moments when we can see a person revealed to us in a light with a depth, with an awesome beauty which we have never suspected before.

It happens when our eyes are open, at a moment of purity of heart; because it is not only God Himself Whom the pure in heart will see; it is also the divine image, the light shining in the darkness of a human soul, of the human life that we can see at moments when our heart becomes still, becomes transparent, becomes pure.

But there are also other moments when we can see a person whom we thought we have always known, in a light that is a revelation. It happens when someone is aglow with joy, with love, with a sense of worship and adoration. It happens also when a person is at the deepest point, the crucifying point of suffering, but when the suffering remains pure, when no hatred, no resentment, no bitterness, no evil is mixed to it, when pure suffering shines out, as it shone invisibly to many from the crucified Christ.

This can help us to understand what the Apostles saw when they were on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw Christ in glory at a moment when His total surrender to the will of the Father, His final and ultimate acceptance of His own human destiny, became revealed to them. Moses and Elijah, we are told, stood by Him; the one representing the Law and the other one representing the Prophets: both have proclaimed the time when salvation would come, when the Man of suffering will take upon Himself all the burdens of the world, when the Lamb of God slain before all ages would take upon Himself all the tragedy of this world. It was a moment when in His humanity Christ, in humble and triumphant surrender, gave Himself ultimately to the Cross…

The Apostles saw the shining, they saw the divine light streaming through the transparent flesh of Christ, falling on all the things around Him, touching rock and plant, and calling out of them a response of light. They alone did not understand, because in all the created world man alone has sinned and became blind. And yet, they were shown the mystery, and yet, they entered into that cloud which is the divine glory, that filled them with awe, with fear, but at the same time with such exulting joy and wonder!

Moses had entered that cloud and was allowed to speak to God as a friend speaks to a friend; he was allowed to see God passing by him, still without a name, still without a face; and now, they saw the face of God in the Incarnation. They saw His face and they saw His glory shining out of tragedy. What they perceived was the glory, what they perceived was the wonder of being there, in the glory of God, in the presence of Christ revealed to them in glory. They wanted to stay there forever, as we do at moments when something fills us with adoration, with worship, with awe, with unutterable joy, but Christ had told them that the time has come to go down into the valley, to leave the Mount of Transfiguration because this was the beginning of the way of the Cross, and He had to be merged into all that was tragic in human life. He brought them down into the valley to be confronted with the agony of the father whose child could not be cured, with the inability of the disciples to do anything for this child, with the expectation of the people who now could turn to no-one but Him – that is where He brought them.

And we are told that He had chosen these three disciples because together, in their togetherness they held the three great virtues that make us capable of sharing with God the mystery of His incarnation, of His Divinity, of His crucifixion, to face His descent into hell after His death and to receive the news of His resurrection: the faith of Peter, the love of John, the righteousness of James.

There are moments when we also see something which is beyond us, and how much we wish we could stay, stay forever in this blissful condition; and it is not only because we are incapable of it that we are not allowed to stay in it, but because the Lord says, You are now on the Mount of Transfiguration, you have seen Christ ready to be crucified for the life of the world – go now together with Him, go now in His name, go now, and bring people to Him that they may live!

This is our vocation. May God give us faith, and the purity of heart that allows us to see God in every brother and sister of ours! Didn’t one of the Desert Fathers say, ‘He who has seen his brother has seen God’? – and serve one another with love sacrificial, with the exulting joy of giving our lives to one another as Christ gave His life for us. Amen.

by Fernando Armellini

This passage is sometimes interpreted as a brief preview of the experience of paradise, granted by Jesus to a group of friends, to prepare them to endure the ordeal of his passion and death.

One should always be very cautious when approaching a gospel text because of that which, at first glance, seems to be a chronicle of facts, but at closer look, often reveals itself as a text of theology drawn up according to the canons of biblical language. The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus reported almost identically by Mark and Luke is an example.

Today, Matthew’s version is proposed to us. It opens with a seemingly irrelevant entry: “After six days.” After what? It is not said, but the reference seems to be the most likely debate about the identity of Jesus that occurred in the region of Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:13-20). One even wonders why Jesus takes with him only three disciples and why does he go up on a mountain.

Let’s start with this last detail. This is a curious fact, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus, when he does or says something important, goes up on a mountain: The Last Temptation takes place on the Mount (Mt 4:8); the beatitudes are spoken on the Mount (Mt 5:1); he multiplied the loaves on the Mount (Mt 15:29) and, at the end of the Gospel, when the disciples encounter the risen Christ and are sent into the world, they were “on the mountain that had been indicated to them” (Mt 27:16).

Just scroll through the Old Testament to find out the reason for such insistence. The mountain, in the Bible—as indeed, among all peoples of antiquity—was the site of the encounter with God. It was on the mountain that Moses had the manifestation of God and received the revelation that later was passed on to the people. It was also at the top of Horeb that Elijah met the Lord.

There’s more. If we read Exodus 24, we find that of Moses it was said, “after six days” (Ex 24:16), he did not go alone, but took Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu with him (Ex 24:1,9), and was enveloped in a cloud. On the mountain, even his face was transfigured by the splendor of God’s glory (Ex 34:30).

In light of these texts, the aim of the evangelist is clear. He intends to present Jesus as the new Moses, as the one who delivers the new law to the new people, represented by the three disciples. Jesus is the definitive revelation of God.

The shining face and bright robes (v. 2). These are also the reasons that recur often in the Bible. The Lord is “covered with majesty and splendor, wrapped in light as with a garment,” says the Psalmist (Ps 104:1-2). They are images which affirm the presence of God in the person of Jesus.

The meaning of the luminous cloud that envelops all with its shadow is identical (v. 5). The book of Exodus speaks of a luminous cloud that protected the people of Israel in the desert (Ex 13:21), a sign of God’s presence that accompanied his people along the way. When Moses received the law, the mountain was enveloped by a cloud (Ex 24:15-16). He also came down with the shining face (Ex 39:29-35). Cloud and shining face are therefore a reflection of God’s presence.

Using these images, Matthew says that Peter, James, and John, in a particularly significant moment of their lives, have been introduced to the world of God and have enjoyed an enlightenment that made ​​them understand the true identity of the Master and the destination of his journey. He would not be the glorious Messiah they expected, but a Messiah who, after a severe conflict with the religious power, would be opposed, persecuted and killed. They also realized that their fate would be no different from that of the Master.

The voice from heaven (v. 5) is a literary expression frequently used by the rabbis to end a long discussion on a theme and present the thought of God.

The topic discussed in the previous chapter (Mt 16) concerned the identity of Jesus. The Master himself had opened the debate with the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13). After exposing the various opinions, the apostles, by the mouth of Peter, had expressed their conviction that he is the long-awaited messiah. The voice from the sky now declares the opinion of God: “Jesus is the beloved,” the faithful servant of whom God is well pleased (Is 42:1).

This “voice” that declared the same words was already heard at baptism. “This is my beloved Son” (Mt 3:17). Now an exhortation is added: “Listen to him.” Listen to him, even when he seems to propose too demanding paths, to indicate the narrow and steep ways, paradoxical and humanly absurd choices.

In the Bible, the word “to listen” does not just mean “to hear” but is often equivalent to the verb “to obey” (Éx 6:12; Mt 18:15-16). The recommendation that the Father gives to Peter, James, and John, and through them, to all the disciples, is “to put into practice” what Jesus teaches. It is the invitation to focus one’s life on the proposal of the beatitude.

Who are Moses and Elijah? The first is the one who gave the Law to his people; the other was considered the first of the prophets. For the Israelites, these two characters represented the Holy Scriptures.

All the holy books of Israel are meant to lead to a dialogue with Jesus; they orient toward him. Without him, the Old Testament is incomprehensible, but also Jesus, without the Old Testament, remains a mystery. On Easter day, to make the meaning of his death and resurrection clear to his disciples, he will resort to the Old Testament: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them everything in the Scriptures concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).

The meaning of the image of the three tents is not easy to determine. Surely, they refer to the path of the exodus and here they indicate, perhaps, the desire of Peter to stop and to perpetuate the joy experienced in a moment of spiritual intimacy with the Master. Whoever builds a tent wants to fix his abode in one place and not move, at least for a time. Jesus instead is always on the move. He goes directly to a destination and the disciples must follow him.

Our own spiritual experience can help us to understand. After having spoken at length with God, we are not willing to go back to everyday life: the problems, social conflicts and family disagreements, the dramas we must confront frighten us, yet we know that listening to the Word of God is not everything. One cannot spend one’s life in the church or in the oasis of spiritual retreats. It is necessary to go out to meet and serve the brothers and sisters, to help those who suffer, to be close to anyone in need of love.

After discovering the way to go in prayer, it is necessary to put oneself in following Jesus who goes up to Jerusalem to offer his life.

Let us summarize the meaning of the scene: the whole Old Testament (Moses and Elijah) receives direction from Jesus. Peter does not understand the meaning of what is happening. Although in words he proclaims Jesus as “the Christ” (Mt 16:16), he remains profoundly convinced that he is just a great character, a man at the level of Moses and Elijah, for this he suggests that three equal tents be built.

God intervenes to correct the false interpretation of Peter: Jesus is not just a great legislator or a mere prophet, he is the “beloved Son” of the Father.

The three characters cannot continue to be together any longer. Jesus stands out clearly from the others and is absolutely superior. Israel had listened to the voice of the Lord which had been transmitted by Moses and the prophets. Now this voice—Peter says—comes to people through Christ. It is he and him alone that the disciples should listen to. It is noted that, when the three look up, they see no others but Jesus. Moses, and Elijah are gone, they have already accomplished their mission: they have presented to the world the Messiah, the new prophet, the new lawgiver.

The promise made to the people by Moses before his death is surprisingly realized: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself from among the people, from your brothers, to whom you shall listen” (Dt 18:15).

READ: The Transfiguration of Jesus is a theophany, a manifestation of the divine. For Jesus and the three disciples with him on the mountain, the experience is a mystical one.

REFLECT: Religious and mystical experiences occur frequently in life. Such experiences are beyond words. Give some thought how the physical can express the spiritual.

PRAY: Prayer can be a mystical experience. Be open in your prayer to recognize the presence of the divine.

ACT: Look for the spiritual in everything. The Spirit is present in all that exists.