Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel text for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The disciples are described as wanting to stay right where they were. Have you experienced a place in your relationship with God where you would like to have continued? (Perhaps a moment in prayer, a special retreat, an experience of nature, or with another person.)
The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection August 6 2023. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photos: Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons; Master of St Severin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
This is a familiar Gospel. The Transfiguration is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels, Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36, and one of these is used as the Gospel text each year for the second Sunday of Lent. In addition, in the years when the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, falls on a Sunday, the readings for the feast replace the readings of the Ordinary Time. The fact that the Church asks us to reflect on the transfiguration accounts signals how important this event is for us.
Throughout his Gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as a Moses-like figure. Here, like Moses, Jesus goes “up a high mountain” and encounters the presence of God. Like with Moses, the face of Jesus become radiant, and the presence of God comes from a cloud. “As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he conversed with the Lord (Exodus 35:29).” As Matthew describes the transfiguration, not only does Jesus’ face become white, but his face becomes like the sun, and his garments turn white as light. Moses and Elijah appear conversing with Jesus, but their appearance is not changed.
The presence of each of the other figures in the account helps point to the superiority of Jesus. Jesus is seen conversing with Moses and Elijah. These two men represent the two pillars of the Jewish faith, the law and the prophets. As Matthew unfolds the event, it is only about Jesus that the voice from heaven speaks, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” At the end of the event, Jesus is left alone with his disciples to descend the mountain.
In a different way, the presence of Peter, James, and John signals the single importance of Jesus. First, their presence gives witness to the reality of the event. In addition, their response is the familiar response of humans when they recognize that they are in the presence of God: awe and fear. At first, Peter suggests that they build tents so that they can stay in this place. Then, when they hear the voice of God, they fall to the ground in fear. Jesus responds to them like he will after the resurrection, with gentle presence, and by urging them not to be afraid.
- Has there been a time when you became aware that you were in the presence of God is some special way? What was your response to that realization?
- By the time the Gospels were written, the early Christians had been waiting for Jesus’ return for decades. Do you have hopes or things that you have prayed for decades? Does this Gospel speak to you and your hopes in some way?
- Do you also have experiences of God being present to you after long waiting?
- In the Gospel text, God speaks from a cloud telling the disciples to listen to Jesus. Is there any teaching of Jesus that you have found particularly meaningful? Is there any teaching that you have found particularly challenging? Is there any teaching that you chose to ignore?
- The disciples are described as wanting to stay right where they were. Have you experienced a place in your relationship with God where you would like to have continued? (Perhaps a moment in prayer, a special retreat, an experience of nature, or with another person.)
- Can you take some time with God to talk about what the Transfiguration means to you in your life situation today?