The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, at St. William Church, Louisville, Kentucky on March 5, 2023
Did you know that transfiguration is a core class and subject taught in year two at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?
Did you know that this class teaches the art of changing the form and appearance of an object or person?
Did you know that transfiguration is considered both complex and dangerous in Harry Potter’s world? And according to Professor Minerva McGonagall, who teaches the course, anyone messing around in her transfiguration class will leave and not come back. Her warning
So where am I going with this? Well, I’m not sure, but it got your attention, right?
Actually, I really don’t want to talk about the fact that Jesus’ appearance was changed. I really don’t’ want to speak of the fact that his garments were white as light, or his face shone like the sun. I don’t really care that the disciples were afraid and fell down. What I do want to speak of and what I do care about is the importance of the words that came from that dark cloud, “This is my Own, my Beloved, on Whom my favor rests. Listen to the word spoken.”
Notice it was not until the voice came from the cloud that the disciples fell to the ground in fear. When they saw Moses and Elijah there, Peter just wanted to get to work. They didn’t seem to be afraid…yet. No big deal that Jesus was having a conversation with two of the most important people in Jewish history!
But when they hear the voice from the dark cloud, that is when they fall down in fear. Because now, now they know that God is affirming what Peter offered earlier in Matthew’s account, “You are the Messiah.” Now they know that God is designating Jesus as The Messenger, the mouthpiece of God. Yes, there is Moses and yes, there is Elijah, but it is revealed now that Jesus, their teacher, their rabbi, and their friend is the voice of God “par excellence.” Does this mean that Jesus’ words surpass the law of Moses and go beyond the prophets of old? Yes, this is a turning point. And for the disciples, who were steeped in the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets, this was frightening. This really can knock you off your feet.
Just a few days earlier (six to be exact in Matthew’s gospel), Jesus had told them about what he was facing: he would suffer, be killed, and come back to life. Hard to grasp. And now God is saying, “Listen to this One.” They had to figure out what these words of Jesus meant. Is this a call to discernment? Is this God’s first invitation to a synodal church that is being called to listen today? Indeed, I think it is.
So, it seems to me that transfiguration is more about listening than seeing. It is more about being in awe of Jesus as “The Word” and being in awe of His words, than being in awe of His appearance. It is less about building tents and staying on that mountain adoringly and more about getting out into the valley below and spreading the word that Jesus is The Word to be listened to.
Now, if you would engage me for a moment as I digress. What if, just what if Jesus would have taken the three Mary’s up that mountain with him? What if He had taken Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany and Mary of Nazareth with him. And what if instead of talking with Moses and Elijah He would have spoken with Esther and Huldah—Esther, like Moses, bring a savior of the Hebrew people and Huldah, like Elijah, being a major prophet to the ruling powers. I wonder how the scene might have differed.
Well, I think Mary of Magdala would have stood there and wept the whole time. Mary of Nazareth, like any good mother, would have thought, “I knew from the beginning that my boy was the Beloved One and that He would amount to something one day.” And Mary of Bethany would have said, “I know Martha is not here, but I do know how to make a nice cup of tea and I could make one for you and Esther and Huldah…if you would like one.”
And I don’t think the women would have fallen down. I think they would have stood tall just like they were going to do on that other mountain very soon. I think they would have said to one another, “Let’s get down this mountain and get to work right now. Let’s not be ashamed to testify about God. We can’t keep this secret. We have to spread this “Word.”
But what about us? What if Jesus had taken three of us up that mountain? Who would He have picked to go with you? Who would you have picked to take with you? Who would have been picked to go with me? Wonder who I would pick? What would we have said or done? How would we have felt about the voice coming from that dark cloud? Would we have fallen down? Would we have stood tall? Would we have wanted to build a tent or serve a cup of tea? Would we have had the courage to spread the word of God? Well, who knows? Interesting to pray about, though.
But one thing we can be sure of, just like Professor Minerva McGonagall says to her students who are there to learn from her, “Transfiguration is both complex and dangerous.”
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.”
Artwork: Mary Magdalene and Jesus, © Jen Norton Art Studio, used with permission.