This coming Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Lent in Lectionary Cycle C taken from the Gospel of Luke 9:28-32 describing the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Transfiguration event is also described in Mt 17:1-9 and Mk 9:2-10 – readings that are traditionally proclaimed on the 2nd Sunday of Lent in their own respective liturgical years as well as on the Feast of the Transfiguration each August 6th.
The Lenten use of the reading, following the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert by the devil, breaks up the flow of Luke narrative. Perhaps a summary of what has transpired since the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time can bring us into context:
Luke 4:14-9:50 is generally described as the Galilean Ministry and is replete with preaching, teaching, and healing in and around Capernaum. Jesus calls and begins to form the disciples all the while debating the scribes and Pharisees. It is in this section that we hear the “Sermon on the Plains” and Jesuss commissions the Twelve for mission. The preaching and miracles continue, most notably the feeding of the 5,000. The narrative is moving towards a key moment punctuated by Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion, death, and resurrection (9:22-27). This brings us to the narrative of the Transfiguration (vv.28-36) “About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.”
Chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel is the locus point of the revelation of Jesus’ true identity. King Herod is curious and wants to see Jesus. The people are curious and continue to gather around Jesus and witness miracles. The scribes and Pharisees are ever present and reporting back to Jerusalem. And then there are the ones closest to Jesus – the Twelve and the other disciples.
The chapter begins with Jesus giving the twelve powers and authority over all demons and diseases and sending them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal. They go about curing diseases everywhere. Their experience of that power and authority should give them insight into Jesus’ identity. When the twelve return from mission they arrive at a scene where a multitude has gathered around Jesus. It is late and so the disciples suggest to Jesus that he send them away so that the multitudes might find food and lodging. Jesus responds, ‘You give them something to eat.’
They have just come back from their glorious missionary journey. They had been performing miracles right and left. They had been preaching God’s message. Yet the twelve wonder, ‘Who, us? How can we feed all these people?’ In one command and their response it all comes to naught. Who is this Jesus that he would ask this of us?
The crowd is like Herod – not quite sure about Jesus. But Peter steps forward and answers the identity question: “The Messiah of God.” (v.2). It is then that Jesus predicts his passion, death and resurrection, showing what it means to be Messiah in this world – whereupon Jesus shows the disciples what it means to be the Son of God in his glory: the Transfiguration.
The location of the mountain is not given anywhere in the Gospels. Some have thought that it was a part of Mt. Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi, since the transfiguration occurs shortly after Peter’s confession there in Mark. On the other hand, since the time of Origen, the mountain has been identified as Mt. Tabor, near Nazareth, but the significance of the location may actually lie more in its parallel with the experience of Moses and Elijah on Mt. Sinai and Mt. Horeb.