Jesus' Transfiguration - A Lesson in Prayer

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

We say that the Psalms are a school of prayer because they teach us to pray. I think we could say that Jesus’ Transfiguration is a lesson on prayer. Luke tells us Jesus went up the mountain to pray and that it was while Jesus was praying that he was transfigured (Luke 9:28-29). Jesus would be much more likely to be interrupted in his prayer if he did not leave the plains of Galilee to go up to this quiet place to pray. We read in one place in Mark’s Gospel (6:31) that there were so many people coming and going that the apostles didn’t even have time to eat so Jesus urged them to go away to quiet place to rest. In today’s Gospel Jesus went up the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28b-36). This is the first part of the lesson on prayer. We have to leave our everyday activity and go up a mountain of tranquility and solitude in order to pray.

While Jesus was praying his face changed and his clothing became radiant white. It wasn’t that Jesus reflected light, it wasn’t light shining on Jesus, but it was light coming from Jesus. Now Jesus’ divinity shone forth through his humanity. When Jesus is in prayer with his Father we see his true self; his divinity is revealed like never before, as he shares in the radiance of his Father. In the Nicene Creed we profess that Jesus is truly divine, begotten of the Father, consubstantial with the Father, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” When Jesus was transfigured, the Father and Son, Light and Light, are in prayerful union. When we pray, light doesn’t shine through us but we ask God to shine his light on us. When Moses came down Mount Sinai his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29) and he had to put a veil on his face (Ex 34:34-35). When we pray, we enter the presence of God, God’s light. Our faces do not shine, but we ask to be enlightened in prayer. Peter said to Jesus, “it is good that we are here” and when we pray, we are our truest self because our longing for God is now being fulfilled. On Sunday mornings we pray in Ps 63:1-2,

“O God, you are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting, my body pines for you like a dry weary land without water, so I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory”

and in Ps 36:9 we pray, “in your light, we see light.” When we pray we enter God’s light to see light and satisfy the thirst of our soul and pining of our body and as Peter said, “it is good that we are here.”

During the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John gazed on the face of Jesus, they contemplated his face. When we pray, we contemplate the face of Jesus, not in light but we contemplate his words to us. The Father spoke to Peter, James and John and said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” (Luke 9:35) In prayer we listen to the words of Jesus because he is the One who has the answer to our questions, the solution to problems. He is the One whose words are worthy of our listening, whose words help answer the questions of humanity today and solve its problems. Jesus’ words are a lamp for our feet and a light for our path, as Ps 119:105 says. This is depicted graphically with the appearance of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus during his Transfiguration. Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophets. Everything in the Old Testament, represented by Moses and Elijah, was leading to Jesus. The covenant God made with Abraham in our first reading (Gen 15:5-12, 17-19) also looks forward to Jesus. In Hebrew, you do not say “make a covenant” but “cut a covenant” because a covenant was made by cutting animals in half and walking on the blood. It meant you understood you would be like those animals if you broke the covenant. That anticipates the covenant God made with us in Jesus who was cut and bled for us. Since God made the New Covenant with us in Jesus when he was cut and bled, in prayer we listen to Jesus’ words. His words are a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.

Peter, James and John saw Jesus in light. They got a glimpse of the glory of Jesus’ resurrection in advance, and also a glimpse of the goal of all our existence, to be with the Father and Jesus in the light of heaven overshadowed by the cloud of the Holy Spirit. When we pray, we are in the vestibule of heaven. When we pray, we are already touching heaven and we look forward to even having our bodies changed and transfigured in some way in heaven. In the second reading, Paul wrote to the Philippians that Christ will transform our lowly body to conform to his glorified body (Phil 3:21). Why, because, Paul says, our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). You all have dual citizenship. You have a United States passport or a passport from your native country, and you have a baptism certificate showing your citizenship in heaven, and because of having citizenship in heaven we look forward to our lowly bodies being conformed to Christ’s glorified body. When we pray, we are already touching heaven, entering the vestibule of heaven and we see ourselves, our body and our world from the point of view of a citizen of heaven.

Peter, James and John went down the mountain again to resume normal living down below in the plains of Galilee. Like them, we resume normal living after our prayer, but our contemplation of the words of Jesus and his light take us through the day as we remember, “it is good that we are here.”

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2016

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Second Sunday of Lent Year C

We live by faith not sight but treasure experiences of God’s personal love

Lent is a time to see Jesus with new eyes 2010

Related Homilies: Jesus is the Promised Messiah. Listen to Him even as He predicts his Passion and Death! 2006

The Transfiguration, look beyond present suffering to the presence of God

Jesus’ Transfiguration reminds us who we are and not to be negative

First Reading; stars of the sky