On the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, we contemplate with the disciples the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ: the Son of man, the Messiah, who comes to enlighten the world through his cross and resurrection.
We often refer to Jesus as the Son of God and the Son of Man, pointing toward Jesus’ divinity and humanity.
In actuality, the title Son of Man refers to Jesus’ divine identity, the God who became king upon the cross.
He is, as in the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man who “received dominion, glory and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dn 7:14).
The Son of Man is the final king of Israel, the one who has come to manifest God’s judgment upon the world. This king is so close to God, knows the divine will so perfectly, that he seems to be divine. His clothing is bright, an angelic figure. Thousands upon thousands of unnamed angels minister to the Son of Man.
“Jesus took Peter, James and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1).
Jesus ascends a mountain. In the Scriptures, divine revelation unfolds upon mountains: the Law is given; the mountain of the Lord is where all nations shall be assembled. Those ascending mountains in the Bible should expect big things.
“He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2).
Jesus, Our Lord, reveals himself to the disciples as the Son of man. He is the great king, coming to bring about the kingdom of heaven. Moses and Elijah are present, showing that in Christ, the Law and the prophets are fulfilled. This is the fullness of time.
After Peter asks to stay, setting up tents to dwell in the divine presence, “from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Mt 17:5).
The voice speaks the words of the psalmist, revealing Jesus as the chosen son of the great King, of God himself.
This revelation is quickly followed by another: “‘Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’” (Mt 17:9).
Why? Would this story not convince others that Jesus was the Son of Man? Shouldn’t all hear about the glory of his transfiguration?
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, still has another revelation for us. The transfiguration of his clothes, of his face upon the mountain, is just the beginning.
For the real destiny is the transformation of human flesh as it descends into the place of death. The real mountain to climb is Calvary.
And the Son of Man makes manifest the politics of the kingdom of God: total, absolute self-giving love. The love of the Resurrection that transforms what it means to be human.
So, let us climb up the mountain with Jesus — not Mt. Tabor but the mountain of Calvary, giving our whole selves in imitation of the Son of man: “Listen to him.”
“‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me’” (Mt 16:24).
“You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pt 1:19).
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.