Transfiguration: prayer

TransfigThe transfiguration scene is composed of the following elements: (1) Jesus’ withdrawal to the mountain to pray with the three disciples (v. 28), (2) the transfiguration (v. 29), (3) the appearance of Moses and Elijah (vv. 30–33a), (4) Peter’s response (v. 33b), (5) the voice from the cloud (vv. 34–35), and (6) the disciples’ response.

Praying on the Mountain. 28 About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.

Characteristically Luke tells us that Jesus went to the mountain to pray. This is a key motif in the Lucan narrative. In the gospel and in Acts, Luke continually points to people achieving the proper attitude and posture before God through the discipline of prayer which Luke repeatedly highlights. He has two principal ways of doing this: (a) He records prayers of Jesus (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28f.; 10:21f.; 11:1; 22:41ff.; 23:46; they show Jesus at prayer before each great crisis of his life). This Gospel alone records that Jesus prayed for Peter (22:31f). Luke tells us that Jesus prayed for his enemies (23:34) and for himself (22:41f.). (b) He includes parables which teach so much about prayer, the friend at midnight (11:5ff.), the unjust judge (18:1ff.), the Pharisee and the tax-collector (18:10ff.). In addition Luke records some exhortations to the disciples to pray (6:28; 11:2; 22:40, 46), and he has a warning against the wrong kind of prayer (20:47).

Luke connects the transfiguration more closely with what has gone before it than the other accounts. Literally, v. 28 reads: “It happened after these words (logoi), about eight days, …” The phrase “these words” points to v.26 – “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Within this scene, only Luke includes the word “glory” (doxa) in his account of the transfiguration (vv. 31, 32).

This is a key moment in the gospel. The disciples, the crowds, and even the twelve have been asking about Jesus’ deeper identity. In the moment before the revelation of his glory (doxa), Jesus takes an inner circle of apostles to the mountain to pray in order that they be well disposed to understand that which will be revealed. This is a feature not present in the other accounts. In this way, Luke underscores the power of prayer to mediate the presence of God.

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