A chaplain was making his rounds at a hospital. He visited a patient, who had only a few more hours to his death. Before praying for the patient, the chaplain asked if there was any specific intention he would like to include in the prayer. In response, the patient summoned the little energy he had and began to say, “You see, this terminal illness has taught me one important lesson.” Seeing that he paused, the chaplain interjected, “Hmmm, one important lesson?” The patient continued, “Yes, this illness has taught me that life is not like a movie you watch on the screen.” The chaplain was not sure of what that meant, so he gently asked, “How so?” The patient then explained, “You see, when you watch a movie, you can rewind and watch the interesting parts as many times as you like, you can skip the parts you don’t like. But in life, you must go through all the scenes – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And the most comforting part of it is, God is in all of them. God was there when I was born. He was there when I was that handsome well-built college kid everyone loved to hang out with. He was there when I was the boss in my office. He is here now that I have lost my physical handsomeness. And I will meet him when I leave this flesh and blood. That is what matters most to me now: God is in it.”
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. There are many points in today’s feast we can reflect on, but for now, I would like us to focus on why Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the mountain where he was transfigured. Today’s gospel passage is from Matthew 17. In the chapter before today’s passage (Matthew 16), Jesus asked his apostles, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” his apostles answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Jesus then turned to the Apostles and asked, “But what about you, who do you say I am?” Peter got the perfect answer regarding the identity of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Even though Peter got the right answer regarding the identity of Jesus, shortly afterward, he showed that he did not know the implication of that identity. After commending Peter for the correct answer, Jesus explained that he was going to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and die. Peter rebuked Jesus for bringing up such a “crazy” idea. Jesus, who had earlier praised Peter, said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
From the conversation between Jesus and his apostles in Matthew 16, we can point out two reasons behind Jesus taking Peter, James, and John to the Mountain of the Transfiguration in today’s passage. The first reason: when Jesus asked what people were saying about his identity, the apostles replied that people were saying he was one of the prophets. To clear this confusion about his identity, Jesus took the three apostles with him to the Mountain where they met Moses and Elijah (the chief of the prophets). He did this so that at least three of his followers (Peter, James, and John) might spot the difference between the servants (prophets) and their Lord (Jesus Christ).
The second reason: Peter gave the right answer about the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, but he failed in the area of the implication of that identity. He knew Jesus was the Messiah, but he could not understand why Jesus should suffer and die. Jesus then took Peter with two other apostles to the Mountain of the Transfiguration where Moses and Elijah talked about the coming passion of the Christ, to assure the apostles that his journey to Jerusalem was part of the implication of his identity as the beloved son of God and as the Messiah. Moses and Elijah were present to show that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. After a while, Moses and Elijah disappeared, and Jesus, who is their fulfillment remained. A voice came from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him, I am well pleased. Listen to him.” This is a special message to the apostles, especially to Peter, who was discouraging Jesus from the Cross. Jesus is more than the lawgiver and the prophet; Peter must take seriously all that Jesus is telling him.
After Peter saw the glory of the transfiguration, he wanted to build three tents, he never wanted to come down from the mountain. But he had to descend the mountain because the cross is the way to glory. There is no way to evade the cross and get to the crown. The transfiguration happened to teach the apostles that life is a full package, and God is in all the parts. God was there when the angel announced to Mary that she would be the Mother of Jesus. God was there when Jesus was born. He was there when Herod wanted to kill Jesus. God was there when Jesus taught, preached, and performed miracles. God was there when Jesus was transfigured. God was there when one of his closest friends betrayed him. God was there even when Jesus felt abandoned on the cross. God was there when Jesus was buried. God was there when Jesus rose from death. And now Jesus is seated at the right hand of God sharing in the full glory of God. God is in it: that is what matters most. My dearly beloved in Christ, life is in phases, life is a full package. I have no idea what phase of life you are now: the good? The bad? Or the ugly? Are you in a phase you wish to repeat as many times as possible? Are you in a phase you wish to skip? I don’t know the level of despair you are facing now. Maybe a voice is suggesting it is time to give up on life. Do not give up! Remember: “It is never over until it is over.” Remember: “Success is often closest when discouragement is greatest.” Above all, God is in it: that is what matters most.