Last week, on the First Sunday of Lent, we encountered Our Lord in the desert. We now move forward to meet Jesus as he begins his final entrance into Jerusalem.
But before he enters the city, he takes three of the apostles aside: Peter, James and John. And before these apostles, Jesus will be transfigured in glory, revealed as the beloved Son.
But what does it mean to be the beloved Son? In the Old Testament, to become the beloved Son is to take up one’s vocation as the fulfillment of God’s original promise to Abraham.
God asks Abraham to leave his land, to trust entirely upon God. God’s promise is fulfilled as Israel comes into existence out of their captivity in Egypt. They receive the Law, they are given a king (against God’s better judgment), and this king is to become the beloved Son that fulfills all promises.
As the psalmist notes, “‘I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.’ I will proclaim the decree of the Lord, who said to me, ‘You are my son; today I am your father’” (Ps 2:6-7).
Thus, Jesus ascends a mountain, where he will be revealed as the Son of God, who has come to fulfill the promise to Abraham. The apostles experience a vision, seeing Jesus “transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him” (Mt 17:2-3).
Jesus’ face shines like Moses, who spoke with God upon the mountain of the Lord. Jesus’ face shines like heaven itself, where Elijah was taken up. He is the beloved Son, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.
He is the final revelation of God’s power and might in history, fulfilling the vision given in the book of Daniel, “When he came near where I was standing, I fell prostrate in terror. But he said to me, ‘Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the end time’” (Dn 8:17).
But then Jesus does something odd. He says to the apostles, still immersed in the light of the encounter, “‘Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’” (Mt 17:9).
This seems foolish. Isn’t it good news to the world that the beloved Son has come into the world?
But, the transfiguration of Jesus is a foreshadowing of the final revelation of Jesus’ sonship. For he will again climb the mountain of the Lord. He will again converse with two people on his right and his left. He will again reveal his sonship to the world, this time upon the wood of the cross.
And then, the centurion, the gentile, will profess: ‘Truly, this was the Son of God!’” (Mt 27:54).
This moment of the Transfiguration is our very pattern for Lent. We, too, must ascend the mountain of the Lord, to become sons and daughters of God. We must learn to give our wills over to the Father, to take up the sonship of the Son.
We must follow the Son to the cross, to imitate the radical self-giving love of the Word made flesh.
And we, too, are promised that one day we will be bathed not simply in the light of the Easter season, but we, too, will be resurrected from the dead. Forever.
For the Transfiguration of the beloved Son is not over. Jesus is raised from the dead. Even in this Lenten season, it’s time to tell the world the Good News.
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.