Going up on a high mountain with Peter, James, and John, Jesus reenacts the ascent of Moses, responding to the ancient call, “Come up to me” (Ex. 24:12). He is transfigured before them; his garments gleam with light; his face shines like the sun. The disciples hear a heavenly voice and fall prostrate. Brilliant clouds crack with glory and fire. Let the peoples tremble. The Son of the Father is the sun of righteousness, transcendent radiance, a power in but not of this world. And yet Jesus says, “Get up and do not be afraid” (Matt. 17:7).
When on the mountain, and amid the cloud, and standing with Moses and Elijah, Jesus is placed at the center of every divine act on behalf of God’s people. And because divine action exceeds all we can ask or imagine, it prompts fear and reverence, awe and wonder. Fear may also paralyze. So, reaching out with his sacred and venerable hands, Jesus touches the disciples, ordaining them for a risen life of fearlessness. And yet he points to a more frightful wonder. “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matt. 17:9). They will tremble again, and again Jesus will say, “Fear not.” Holy fear and fearlessness have kissed each other a thousand times, one hundred times, another thousand times, as many as the grains of Libyan sands, as many as the stars of heaven. Fear! And fear not! And love evermore!
From the cloud a voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5). “And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone” (Matt. 15:8). Seeing Jesus, they see the summation of the law and the prophets, they see an image of the Father, and they behold one conceived by the Spirit and unbegotten. They stand close to the being of God and the whole economy of salvation. Jesus alone! He is the exegesis of the Father (John 1:18), the inexhaustible pouring out of God creating, sustaining, and restoring all things. He is the icon whose perspective draws the eye to the heights of heaven, to the mud and water of earth, to human goodness and human evil, to death and hell. Wherever the eye looks, he is there, lifting hell to earth and earth to heaven.
Jesus says to the disciples, “Tell no one about the vision” (Matt. 17:9). They wait “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Knowing as we do that he has been raised, the prohibition is lifted. Baptized into the faith, fed with sacred body and holy blood, reading daily from truth beyond cleverly devised myths, we become “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed” (2 Pet. 1:18-19). Fear and fear not the depth of love.
A line from a Latin hymn to the mother of Jesus says this: “O Mary, full of grace, you alone, with a pure breast, nursed him with milk, giving kisses.” Let us live and let us love. And let the wise be confounded by the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Faith is not merely a better story, a code of convictions; it is the kiss of the mouth (Song of Songs). It is a perennial question: “Peter, do you love me?”
Look It Up
Read Ps. 2:3-4. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones.
Think About It
Real Presence means really present, what God gives and faith knows.