Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. (Mark 9:2-10 – NRSV)
A similar account can be found in Matthew 17:1–8, Luke 9:28–36 and 2 Peter 1:16–18.
This account is preceded by Jesus’ statement in 9:1: “And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power’.” The account of the transfiguration then holds a tension between two truths concerning the Kingdom. The first truth is that the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is “not yet” – see Mark 13:30, Matthew 10:23 & 24:34 and Luke 21:32. The second truth is that the Kingdom is “already here” – see Matthew 11:12 & 12:28 and Luke 11:20, 16:16 & 17:21. This tension must be always kept in view by the disciples of Jesus.
Mountains are places of divine communication for the Jews and others. Moriah and Sinai stand out in the Jewish culture, Olympus for the Greeks. In Mark’s account the disciples get a glimpse of the Divine revealed in Jesus – his inner truth shines forth in his physical presence.
Elijah represents the prophets, Moses the law. Both are faithful servants of God, both suffer for their fidelity. Jesus combines both roles and he too will suffer in his fidelity.
Peter clearly has a significant place in the community as he speaks up on behalf of the others. See also Mark 8:29 & 32, 10:28 and 11:21.
We have here in this account a tiny metaphor of Church, the gathering of disciples around Jesus.
The focus is Jesus. In him is the eternal Godhead. Through him, with him and in him is our life as Church. Any attempts – explicit or implicit – to found the Church on any other basis will not only fail, it will be disastrous.
The nearer we get to the reality of Jesus the more our speech fails. Peter blurts out: “‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’. He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” If we keep our focus on that relationship with Jesus and through him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, we will be drawn into silence and led away from silly claims to know what we do not know.
St Gregory of Nyssa, in his “Life of Moses”, speaks of encountering a “luminous darkness”. Even as we are “blinded” and rendered speechless, we see and know at a profound level and in a substantial way.
Allowing this experience to become central to our lives is particularly important today as we grapple with the crippling effects of rationalism. A mind chained to the merely rational cannot even begin to glimpse the reality of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God at work in our world. St Peter, recalling this event sums it up well: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2Peter 1:16)
“The apophatic is the linguistic strategy of somehow showing by means of language that which lies beyond language.” (D