Just who does Jesus think he is?
Jesus’ transfiguration seems the extreme opposite of the weakness and struggle that we saw last week as Jesus was tempted by the devil. Now Jesus takes his closest companions and goes up on a mountain and he begins to glow, beam, be radiant. The scripture says “his face shown like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” In the desert, the devil tries to shake Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. His stance on the mountain is one of confidence in his identity. Far from being alone, now Jesus has his disciples and Moses and Elijah, pretty impressive. It is no wonder Peter could not contain his excitement. I can easily be caught in the mystery of it all.
Commentators suggest that the narrative of Jesus transfigured is about Jesus’ identity. That may well be. They say the appearance of Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophetic traditions of Israel, which Jesus is said to fulfill. This may very well be true. The voice from the cloud does proclaim “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” The voice is addressing the disciples. So the story may be about further establishing Jesus identity as the Son of God or, maybe there is more.
There is something else in this narrative from Matthew’s Gospel that stirs my spiritual imagination. Near the end of the story, the disciples see “Jesus alone” and he tells them “Do not be afraid.” Then he charges them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Could this story be as much about Jesus’ humanity as it is about his divinity? Perhaps our own human experience can help. I know far too well the scope of my experience. Those times when I am just unsure about the path I believe God has chosen for me. I can be tempted to see myself as conditional, I am not whole or holy enough, not good enough, just not enough. There are those moments too, where I just surrender knowing my confidence doesn’t come from me, but from God. These times are graced. The interesting thing is that my friends usually can see the grace on my face. My mind clears, my resolve strengthens and I know again that the measure of my worth is not in my doing. The measure of my worth is in that I am God’s beloved. And the only response worthy of this truth is that I love God in return unreservedly no matter the circumstances.
Even in his human frailty, Jesus’ face was dazzling with light. His whole person shown so brilliant even his clothes became whiter than bleach could offer. I wonder if the vision was a manifestation of the reciprocity of love between the Father and Jesus. A love that shown from deep within him, a love that needed encouragement in the face of impending betrayal, abandonment and death. Perhaps the voice from the cloud was God’s way of reassuring both Jesus and his disciples that God was in the midst of it all. Moses and Elijah were offering support to Jesus as he continued in his loving obedience to the will of God. Just who does Jesus think he is? He is the one who was willing to love God enough….
Ana Cloughly, OSB