In today’s readings, we see Jesus transfigured. From a historical point of view, Matthew places Jesus in continuity with Elijah and Moses. Biblical scholars tell us that Matthew has a primarily Jewish audience, so his account of Jesus frequently compares him to Moses, but as beyond Moses. He is placed in the tradition of the prophets, who spoke on behalf of God and urged people to reform their ways and to follow the Lord. So there is not only the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain to consider, but also our own transformations, and even transfigurations, in a metaphorical sense.
When I reflect back on major transition points in my life—the birth of my children, a midlife crisis, or shifts in my spiritual life —they, too, are moments of transfiguration. For example, as a mother of a newborn baby, my life shifted from being primarily about myself to being primarily about this other being. Everything in my day suddenly became about tending to the needs of my baby–comforting, changing diapers, nursing, and a lot of waking up in the middle of the night! There are a lot of joyful moments–mostly happy ones–but also times when we have to “be the parent “and do for the child what our own egoistic child selves don’t want to do (e.g., waking up to clean up vomit and comfort a sick child for the fifth time in one night!). Becoming a parent is not only about a change in the externals but also an internal transfiguration, as one chooses to set aside a certain amount of egoism and do whatever benefits another. In that transition from self love to other centered love, all the little happy moments and also all the little, painful moments add up to a cumulative kind of change in oneself and the other. Parenthood makes us more other centered than we were as single people or even as a married couple. Transfiguration.
For Peter and James, their desire is to make tents and to stay on the mountain. But in fact, they have to come down from the experience again and return to normal life. On the mountaintop, they experience awe and fear. But the more important task is to integrate that mountain top experience into ordinary life. Here, I think also about spiritual experiences that we may have–moments where God is present, in a palpable, if not awesome way. We can try to stay in those moments, and indeed they should be savored and reverenced, but eventually we need to return to the ordinary and find God there, too.
As human beings, our task is to bring such experiences back into ordinary life, into our day to day relationships of love and care—into the works of justice and into personal relationships with our family and friends. In many ways, God transfigures us through the many small sacrifices we make, such as those we offer this Lent. Most of all, we choose to offer ourselves to God and what God asks, and ultimately it is God that makes the transfigurations take place.