February 23, 2020, Transfiguration Sunday. A reflection on Matthew 17:1-9.
“Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (v4)
Did Peter react in the wrong way? No, he was just acting the way a human being has to be. His reaction was very natural. Surely, he was not prepared to see such a transfiguration of Jesus. If he was wrong, Jesus could have rebuked him like “Get behind me satan” but Jesus did not. Reacting and expressing his own way characterized Peter’s personality. In his dialogue with Jesus in John 21:15-17 about loving and shepherding, he was asked thrice because his first two answers were about brotherly love while Jesus was telling him about the heavenly love. But remember that Jesus himself went down to the level of Peter to lift him up and in the third time Jesus asked him was the brotherly love that Peter has repeatedly answered Jesus. Peter was just true to himself which is a good virtue of a disciple. Let us also remember that it was Peter who answered and identified Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God in Matthew 16:15-16 that made Jesus pronounced blessedness to Peter.
“While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud, a voice said, ‘this is my Son, the Beloved; with him, I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid’” (v5-7).
What matters to me in this story is the way Jesus lifted up the disciples just like he has been doing to those who were marginalized in the society.
Jesus needs to lift his disciples up to become strong and ready to do the salvific and prophetic tasks that He and the disciples will do later. These tasks are represented by Moses and Elijah appearing with him when He transfigured.
The appearance of Moses speaks of the salvific task of Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, the son of the living God. Moses was called and tasked by the God of salvation and history to save and led his people from the bondage of the Egyptian pharaoh. While Moses had Joshua the leader of his army, Aaron his spokesperson and Hur who helped Aaron in raising up Moses’ hands for them to win battles against their enemies, Jesus also had with Him Peter, James and John and of course the other disciples and followers He educated, organized and mobilized in the course of his salvific mission to mankind.
On the one hand, Elijah’s appearance represents the prophetic role of Jesus. In the course of his three years of ministry for salvation. He calmed the common people and angered the oppressors when he announced the gospel of salvation and denounced the transgressions of the leaders of the land. The common people find in him relief in the soul and answers to questions of their economic and social maladies. Jesus pointed to and identified the rulers for the reasons for the uncertainties of the people’s situation, the poverty, the injustices, and the unfair living conditions do not only by the state and but also by the religious leaders who are all puppets and dependents of the Roman Empire. The prophetic task was very vital to the whole ministry of Jesus. By doing such, he has drawn people to come and follow him and to put demarcations and identifications of who was for God and for the common people and who were for the status quo.
We should argue however that the messianic act of Jesus of salvation just like Moses was not done alone and it was not only in his crucifixion that he saved humankind. Just like Moses he has to draw people in his work. He has to show them and to make them realize that solidarity and working with many is necessary and the key to the whole mission of liberation, salvation. The crucifixion was the highest sacrifice that messiahs and liberators have to endure and dealt with.
The story of transfiguration should also define our mission as Christians and believers – we are here to lead and be part of the whole quest of the liberation and salvation of humankind in our very own context. The whole world context, in general, that affects our own Philippine context in particular.
The world economic powers like the USA, China, some European countries and Russia adopting and implementing neo-liberal economic policies for their own benefits at the expense of the poor countries like ours. Foreign aides and others from their government course through development organizations are only used to deodorize their real greedy intentions. If those were a real help, third countries must have been freed from economic woes. I must say that we don’t need that kind of help. What we need is for them to be among us.
In doing our prophetic ministry we should be like Jesus who identified the rulers of the land as the culprit of all the miseries we are experiencing. We should not miss doing this by praising the leader amidst his failure to even try to comply with his election promises – the eradication of drugs problem, the ending of the labor contractualization, the elevation of the poor from economic misery, the respect for the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples, the fight against corruption and the independent economic policies. Let us get away from the deceptive trap that he cares more about human lives than human rights. Let us not be the false prophets like what is recorded in the Old Testament times who ended up defending the kings who paid them.
“Get up and do not be afraid.” (v7b)
We should live out the transfiguration story. The salvific act of God in the life of Moses, the prophetic responsibility role of Elijah which are all required in the liberating mission of Jesus. We should be lifting up one another when we fell down and intimidated by the powers around us. Like Jesus, we should be able to encourage each other by echoing Jesus’s words, “Get up and do not be afraid.” (v7b)
Until next for the Ash Wednesday.