Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 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.”
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!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 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.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
I have always felt a bit sorry for Peter. It seems that, regardless of the selected commentary that I read, scripture scholars are quick to point out how often Peter didn’t “get it,” how he couldn’t understand the meaning of what Jesus was saying. More disconcerting for me has been to read the consensus among many scholars that the Gospel writers emphasize Peter’s mistakes because Peter’s example serves as a kind of “Everyman,” or every woman, in response to Jesus’ message. Put differently, it’s not just Peter, nor the other apostles, but also “we” who don’t “get it.”
It seems unfair. In this Sunday’s Gospel, seeing Moses and Elijah amidst this deserted high mountain, Peter’s Galilean mind naturally recalls God’s salvific action on behalf of Peter’s Israelite ancestors. He remembers how, when his ancestors fled Pharaoh’s Egypt and journeyed toward the Promised Land, God provided them tents, or as they were also known, “booths,” or “tabernacles,” in which to dwell. Many times, at the Jewish Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles, Peter had celebrated God’s saving of the Israelites. So, when facing Moses, the Law-giver, and Elijah, the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, what else ought Peter do?!
Peter’s example teaches us that we are called not to focus our eyes too tightly on the past, but rather look ahead, toward Jesus. Jesus’ transfiguration signals his Godship, and so, thanks to him, we are freed to look forward, not merely at our mistakes but toward our salvation, only at last made eternal. As we proceed toward Easter, let us not get stuck by our sins, but this Lent, ask God’s forgiveness, repent for our sins and pray to follow Jesus more closely, knowing, “The Word [is] flesh and dwelling [“tent-ing”] among us” (John 1:14).
—Fr. William T. Sheahan, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Central and Southern Province serving as rector of the Rockhurst Jesuit Community in Kansas City, MO.
Lord, we often read of Peter’s failings, but he was the Rock on which you built your Church. I, too, come to you full of faults and failures. Sometimes I don’t “get it.” I may act rashly, as Peter did. And sometimes my actions deny my knowledge of you. By your grace, may I also have Peter’s faith and zeal. Forgive my weakness and help me grow in self-knowledge so that, like Peter, I can lead others to you. Amen.
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