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03.08.2020 The Transfiguration

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

The Transfiguration

The composition of The Transfiguration is divided into two distinct parts: the Miracle of the Possessed Boy on a lower level; and the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, in the background. The transfigured Christ floats in an aura of light and clouds above the hill, accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Below, on the ground, are his disciples. Some are dazzled by the light of glory, others are in prayer. The gestures of the crowd beholding the miracle link the two parts together: the raised hands of the crowd converge towards the figure of Christ. In this grand composition, Raphael has summed up all the elements present in the best of contemporary painting. Light and its effects are a dominant pictorial theme of The Transfiguration. Its blinding force overwhelms Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop, but a second light picks out heads and hands, a gesture or a bit of garment, from deep black recesses.


Matthew 17:1-9

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 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.” 5 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!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


The Context

Chapter 16 works like a hinge in Matthew’s Gospel. Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Son of God stands as if it where the “geographical center” of the Gospel. In the following passage, after Peter’s declaration, Jesus announces his passion and death. And the chapter closes with a note of hope affirming that “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”.

Matthew wants to show that this promise is immediately fulfilled by telling the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Transfiguration is a New Testament version of the Old Testament manifestations of God -Theophany-[1].

Jesus takes with him a few disciples[2].

There might be an intentional reason for Matthew to reduce the number of witnesses to the most intimate circle of Jesus, probably to show that the full revelation of the true identity of Jesus is better disclosed in an intimate relationship with Him. By saying this, Matthew makes a clear an invitation for a personal contact and intimacy with the Risen Christ.

Moses and Elijah

Moses was the “friend of God” to whom God talked face to face –without his dying-. After his meetings with God, Moses’ face reflected the glory of God. Here, in the Transfiguration we see that “[Jesus’] face shone like the sun”. If Moses’ face reflected the glory of God as the moon reflects the light of the sun, Jesus’ face, instead, is the sun itself, the source of Light. For Matthew God does not need other mediations, God has become man, God is man.

We wouldn’t be able to recount the history of Israel had Moses and Elijah not followed God’s designs. Without Moses Israel would not have existed in the first place. In this scene, he needs to appear to testify to the genuine claims of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. And so is Elijah. Without him, the people of Israel would have abandoned Yahweh to follow pagan idols[3].

It was very important for Matthew to prove that the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus. The Old Testament prophesized that the Son of God would arrive only after the return of Elijah[4]. Matthew, puts in Jesus’ lips the statement that Elijah did appear first, and he was John the Baptist (Mt. 16: 9-13).

Moses and Elijah give a double testimony that certifies that Jesus is not an exalted visionary, a rebel or a deceiver. His claims are trustworthy and the disciples do well in following him.

The Three Tents

Peter would have liked to have made Tabor a permanent dwelling. He acknowledges the beauty of what he saw. But Peter wants to do away with the announcement of Jesus’ Passion, while he is willing to remain forever under the cloud at Mount Tabor.

The Voice from Heaven

Even if a thick cloud is dark and darkens the day, this cloud was bright and served as the introduction of the words of God[5] from within declaring once again (as at the Baptism), that Jesus is the Son of God… But now the Voice from heaven added an invitation to “listen to Him”. This is important because this passage comes after Jesus had spoken about his death on the Cross. The invitation is to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and until the end (and also in times of persecution).

The need to take up the cross in order to follow Jesus causes anguish and terror in the disciples. They will be comforted only by the healing touch and presence of Jesus.

Easter Proclamation

The Easter proclamation cannot be anticipated in the life time of Jesus. He asked the disciples not to speak of what they have said until He has risen from the dead. The experience on Mount Tabor served to prepare the disciples to face the scandal of the Cross, so that when Jesus died, they would remember that He has always been the Beloved Son of the Father.

Jesus goes immediately down the mountain to minister to meet a crowd and heal an epileptic boy.


Jesus regularly goes up the mountains and to isolated places to meet His Father in intimacy[6]. At times, Jesus wants his disciples to see what happens in those moments of prayer. This is one of those occasions. “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

The journey of Lent is not an easy one. Following Jesus demands giving up selfishness and fear. We, like the disciples need the healing touch of Jesus to tread the path to Calvary together with Him.

Be Still for the Presence of the Lord

Aled Jones

Be still, for the presence of the Lord,

The holy One, is here;

Come bow before him now with reverence and fear.

In him no sin is found. We stand on holy ground.

Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the holy One, is here.

Be still, for the glory of the Lord,

Is shining all around;

He burns with holy fire, with splendour he is crowned:

How awesome is the sight. Our radiant king of light!

Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around.

Be still, for the power of the Lord

Is moving in this place:

He comes to cleanse and heal, to minister his grace -

No work too hard for him. In faith receive from him.

Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.

Be still! Be still!


Traditionally, this passage of the Gospel is read as an invitation to contemplative prayer.

We, too, pray privately to God and live precious experiences. Sometimes, we cannot explain with our words what happens in us. Sharing our prayer becomes itself a revealing moment of grace. We give a gift to others and to our own selves when we meet for prayer, when we open up to share and listen to one another. Today, Jesus invites us to value what happens in our prayer. Sometimes, we only experience silence, dryness or even fear. In any case, God has a message to deliver, no matter what our feelings are. God is present, even in His absence. We treasure the gift of prayer and praise God for making us able to know Him, to meet Him, to love Him.

Our prayer in the silence of the heart will bear fruit when we serve others in the family or in the community; our prayer will bear fruit when we put Jesus in all we do in our job, or in helping the most needy and vulnerable.


[1] Ex. 19:24; Ex. 24:1 [2] Surprisingly, Andrew, who is an important disciple in the Gospel of Mark, does not seem to be so in Matthew’s Gospel (Jn.1:40;6:8;12:22). [3] 1 Kings 18:17-19: “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ He answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’”

[4] Sirach 48:10 “At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob”. [5] Ex.19:9 [6] Mark 1:35; Mark 6:46; Mark 14:32.35.39; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 19:13; 26:; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 11:1; 22:32; John 11:22; 14:16; 16:26; John 17:1-25.

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