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 16:23).
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.