The story of Abraham and Issac is a focal one in Genesis and in the faith history of the Jewish people. It begins with God’s command, "Go forth." But the foundation of this story is the very common story we all participate in. All these stories share the same characteristic, they contain some kind of change and conflict along the way to new life. This is the hope that this story of Abraham stirs up. The promise isn't that things will be easy; what makes the end hopeful is that God promises to “Go Forth” with Abraham and his descendants forever.
The Gospel story is also one of change and conflict. The disciples went to an out of the way place with the Lord. It is quiet and, from there, they can see for a great distance. There, things can be put into focus for them; there they can get perspective. But they get more than they expected - for on the mountain that day they had a momentary glimpse into how special Jesus is. They also realized that nothing in their lives would ever again be the same as it once was.
The Apostles witness a dazzling display of God's glory at the Transfiguration and are overwhelmed with excitement; but they are soon to experience the passion and death of Jesus. These same three will follow Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane. They will see Him, fearful, saddened, pleading not to have to suffer and die. They will see Him on the cross, apparently abandoned by his Father and overcome by evil. This will betray all their hopes and dreams, and almost destroy their faith.
The Transfiguration story is not about a moment of spiritual illumination - but rather a story where we see Christ's attempt to rehabilitate and re-energize his disciples.The whole point of the story was not to go up the mountain and bask in God's glory, but to go back down from the mountain and do what Jesus does: heal the sick, give sight to those who are blind, open the ears of the deaf and bring the Good News to the poor. The voice from the Cloud says the same thing now as that which was heard at Jesus' baptism: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." But now there is an addenda, directed squarely at the disciples: "Listen to him! Listen to what HE is saying, not to what YOU think he is saying…"
On the mountain they didn't understand the meaning behind the Transfiguration. Only when He is raised from the dead will they understand. Only then will they remember the Transfiguration, only then will they remember that like Abraham, they too are told to “Go Forth” and live the promise given them. And only then will they truly understand why He sent them down from the mountain, back to the physical world, which needed - and still needs to be - transformed and transfigured.
Rehabilitation is a long process. Our belief in God and our journey of faith does not exclude the possibility of suffering and emptiness. It does not mean that we will always be able to find Him present in the ups and downs of our everyday lives. Nor does it mean that we are expected to passively sit back and "accept" all of the obstacles and roadblocks we find along the way as being part of some grand plan that He has for us.
Jesus died on the cross because he was obedient to God’s will. God wanted Jesus to proclaim the beginning of a new kingdom of compassion and reconciliation with God and with one another -- a reign of peace for all -- for the least, and for sinners and outcasts as well. Jesus fulfilled God’s will and stayed faithful to his preaching and healing mission. He was steadfast in the mission, even though he stirred the wrath of the earthly and religious powers. Eventually these resisting forces killed him.
As the Gospel unfolds, the dazzling brilliance of our God begins to show through the humanity of Jesus more and more clearly. Our faith tells us that our lives will gradually be re-energized and remade according to the pattern of the transfigured Christ, who is our Light, our Strength and our Salvation.
For us, the meaning of the Transfiguration is that, as Karl Rahner says: "in the dark night of hopelessness the light of God shines, and a human heart finds in God the power which turns a dying into victory."
We have been told to “Go forth.” How do we respond?