The transfiguration story in Luke finishes the season of Epiphany and bridges the Christian journey into Lent. The season of Epiphany is a time that manifests the divine nature of Jesus Christ. So the story of the transfiguration plays a significant role as it raises an essential question for all disciples of Jesus: Who is Jesus to me?
This story falls between two critical encounters Luke adds to his gospel witness. First, Peter’s proclamation when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:18–27). Second, is the challenge of faith raised when a father who claims the disciples could not heal his son confronts Jesus (Luke 9:37–62). Between these two stories is a moment of mystery and intrigue as the divine nature of Jesus is revealed.
It is important to recognize Jesus’ transfiguration does not happen when he arrives at the top of the mountain. This revealing act emerges from his engagement in the spiritual practice of prayer that places him in relationship to God. This encounter becomes even more defining as Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. In this scene, Luke connects the past redemption of Israel through Moses with the future redemption of all people through Jesus. The images of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus support the claim that God’s prophetic presence is in the past, present, and future.
This story also contains another interesting dynamic. While the divinity of Jesus is proclaimed through his spiritual encounter with God, Luke provides a counterimage reflected by the disciples. In simple terms, Peter, John, and James almost miss this powerful experience because of their human limits. In many ways, Luke highlights the disciples’ failure to grasp the full expression of Jesus and his mission. This lack of understanding becomes even more obvious in Peter’s eager response to erect three houses to commemorate the event and to remain in that mountaintop experience. A powerful admonition emerges as the voice of God disrupts Peter and calls all of them to listen to Jesus.
This text contains a powerful proclamation of who Jesus is and what his mission was about. But it is also a story that challenges us, in our human nature, to recognize we do not always understand the nature and full expression of Christ’s mission into human life. Peter wanted to remain on the mountain soaking up the blessings. But Jesus knew his mission was not on the mountain, but with people. Thus, the mountaintop moment is followed by Jesus stepping back into the frailty of human life as reflected by the father who comes to Jesus to heal his son. Seemingly, the disciples did not have enough faith. In this culminating scene, we are confronted with our own question of faith.
The Son of God, revealed to Peter, but not fully understood, is revealed again on the mountain, and still not fully recognized. It is only clear when the Son of God comes down from the mountain and a father in despair over his son, points to who Jesus is. In multiple scenes that proclaim Jesus, the revelation culminates in the Son of God being personal enough to be present with those who suffer. This should be a message of hope for our lives. But also, it is a challenge in how we reflect who Jesus is and our willingness to proclaim the divinity of Jesus who came so all could be free.