Matthew 17:01-09

17:1     Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John

and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

17:2     There in their presence he was transfigured:

his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as dazzling as light.

17:3     And suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them;

they were talking with him.

17:4     Then Peter spoke to Jesus.

'Lord,' he said, 'it is wonderful for us to be here;

if you want me to, I will make three shelters here,

one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.'

17:5     He was still speaking

when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow,

and suddenly from the cloud there came a voice which said,

'This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.'

17:6     When they heard this, the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear.

17:7     But Jesus came up and touched them, saying,

'Stand up, do not be afraid.'

17:8     And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but Jesus.

17:9     As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order,

'Tell no one about this vision until the Son of man has risen from the dead.'


Just before this event Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ (Greek translation of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’, ‘Anointed’). That means: ‘You are the one our Holy Books announced; the one who comes to found the definitive Kingship of the Lord in Jerusalem.’

Bur immediately Jesus began to correct their expectations. He made it clear that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day (16:20-21). The disciples didn’t get the message.

In their imagination the Messiah should change this world into a paradise in one second.


Moses and Elijah are the representatives of the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law, Elijah the prophets. Besides that they are the only two persons in the Old Testament to whom the Lord in his glory appeared; to Moses in Exodus 33,18-23; to Elijah in 1 Kings 19,11-13. So when they witness the transfiguration of Jesus they must recognize the Lord as He showed himself during their lifetime.

It is striking that the voice from the cloud calls Jesus ‘my son’ (17:5). Jesus calls himself ‘the son of man’ (17:9).  The voice from the cloud cites a text (of the Greek translation) of Isaiah (42:1). It is the first line of the Song of the Suffering Servant of the Lord. But interesting, the Greek translation doesn’t speak of the ‘servant’, but of the ‘son’! That  means that the voice from the cloud does the same thing as Jesus did just before this moment. Citing the Song of the Suffering Servant (Son) it announces the coming suffering of God’s son.

Jesus’ transfiguration  has not only the purpose of showing his divine inside.  It has also the purpose to help his disciples (us!) to believe in him when he will suffer and die. That we should discern his divine nature through his suffering, humiliation and death. That we should keep in mind what we witnessed on the mountain in  all the awful circumstances he has to go through.

Picture Meditation

The whole picture tells a lot more than the Transfiguration. Let us restrict ourselves to the scene of the Transfiguration as such.

The most obvious person is Jesus in his white garment. He is sitting (residing?) on the top of the mountain, highly towering above the others. His right hand points to the heaven; his left to the three crosses deep down. The effect is that Jesus’ arms cover the other five persons.

He speaks with the two figures in front of him: Moses in pink and Elijah in yellow. Both are kneeling. I try to imagine what the expression is of their attitudes and their gestures.

The three disciples are at Jesus’ left hand (for us: at the right side). We recognize Peter with his roundly shaved head and his beard. He is the highest of the three disciples. The other two belong to each other; the one lays his hand on the back of the other; they are the brothers John and James. I ask myself what is the meaning of the gestures of their hands. The pink colour of one of them is rhyming with the pink of Moses; the yellow of the other with the yellow of Elijah.

The whole scene suggests dynamic movement.

I take my time and I look at each of these persons. What happens with me, when I identify myself which each of them?

I finish with a colloquy with one of the disciples (or with each of them); perhaps with a colloquy with Moses; or with Elijah; finally with Jesus...

- Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J