Matthew 17: 1-9
The scripture passage for today brings us a story that
deals with the transfiguration. It takes place six days
after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. It
also takes place after Jesus has told them he would
undergo great suffering and death in Jerusalem. This
upset Peter, so he began to rebuke Jesus, which in turn
led Jesus to say to him: “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew
Now Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, his closest
disciples, up a high mountain away from the crowds.
While they are up there by themselves Jesus is suddenly
transfigured. Not only did his face shine like the sun,
but his whole appearance changed.
Next Moses and Elijah appear, representing the law and
the prophets. This is a connection the Gospel writer
wanted to highlight. As so often in the Gospel, Matthew
uses features from the Moses story about Jesus. This
helps his Jewish listeners recognize the importance of
Jesus. Moses had an experience with the Divine on top of
a mountain and a cloud accompanied Moses on his journey.
Elijah had also encountered God on a mountain. So both
law and prophet represent for the writer of Matthew the
importance of Jesus. The transfiguration confirms that
Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. He is more
than Moses (the law) and more than Elijah (the prophet),
he is the Messiah. But this is a Messiah who will face
suffering and death.
While Peter is saying he can build three houses for
them, suddenly a cloud appears, representing the
presence of God. Like at the baptism, God’s voice
confirms that Jesus is God’s Son, the beloved. The same
voice also tells the disciples to listen to Jesus. They
fall to the ground. This would be proper behavior for
those in the presence of God; the disciples are also
afraid. Immediately before they came to the mountain
Jesus told them he would suffer, be killed, and be
resurrected after three days. Peter had not been happy
to hear that and now God tells Peter and the other two
disciples to listen to Jesus.
Their fear is soon reduced when Jesus comes over to
them, touches them, and tells them to get up and not be
afraid. So far in the Gospel others have come to Jesus,
but here it is Jesus going to them to touch them and
encourage them to get up and go on. The passage ends
with the four descending the mountain and Jesus telling
them not to tell others about what happened until he has
been raised from the dead. In other words Matthew’s
listeners are made to understand that what just happened
here on the mountain is something that can only be fully
understood after Jesus has died and been resurrected.
Almost immediately, Jesus resumes his ministry of
bringing hope to the lives of everyone he meets along
the way, when he cures a boy with a demon.