Sunday, February 25, 2024

Understanding Jesus' Transfiguration in the Context of Mark's Gospel

"After six days Jesus took Peter, 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 fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 'Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.' He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, 'This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.' Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant." (Mark 9:2-10 NABRE)

In the Gospel of Mark, the account of Jesus' transfiguration stands as a pivotal moment, rich in theological significance. The narrative, as found in Mark 9:2-10, presents a scene where Jesus leads three of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—up a high mountain, where he is transfigured before them. His clothes become dazzling white, and he is joined by two towering figures of Jewish tradition: Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the chief prophet. This event is not merely a display of divine glory but a moment laden with symbolic meaning, pointing to Jesus' unique role in salvation history.

The presence of Moses and Elijah alongside Jesus serves as a deliberate theological statement by the author of Mark. By positioning Jesus with these key figures, the narrative asserts Jesus' significance in the continuum of God's revelation. Moses represents the Law, and Elijah represents the Prophets—two foundational elements of Jewish religious tradition. The transfiguration, therefore, at the very least places Jesus on the same level as those ancient figures. Within the world of Christian theology it is conceivable that this was also a sign of the fulfillment of the law and the prophets in Jesus.

Moreover, the voice from heaven declaring Jesus as the beloved Son is a profound moment of divine affirmation. This proclamation echoes the Roman practice of announcing the emperor as a son of the gods through a "gospel" (or good news). However, Mark subverts this imperial concept, presenting Jesus as the true son of God, whose authority surpasses earthly rulers. This divine endorsement commands the disciples—and by extension, the readers—to listen to Jesus, implying that his teachings hold ultimate authority.

The command to listen to Jesus may also allude to his forthcoming passion and resurrection. Although the disciples are told to keep silent about the vision until after the resurrection, their lack of understanding about what rising from the dead means underscores a key theme in Mark's Gospel: the disciples' failure to grasp the full implications of Jesus' mission. This narrative detail serves to emphasize the unexpected nature of the resurrection, countering any notion that the disciples could have fabricated the story after witnessing Jesus' crucifixion. How you choose to interpret that is up to you.

In conclusion, the transfiguration account in Mark 9:2-10 is a richly symbolic narrative that underscores Jesus' unique role Christian faith. By presenting Jesus alongside Moses and Elijah, the author asserts Jesus' role alongside the Law and the Prophets. The divine proclamation of Jesus as the beloved Son emphasizes his authority and prefigures his death and resurrection, challenging the disciples—and readers—to understand and accept the unexpected path of the Messiah. The transfiguration thus stands as a pivotal moment in Mark's Gospel, inviting reflection on the nature of Jesus' mission and the demands of discipleship.