Poring over details is imperative in the appreciation of the story of the Transfiguration, the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent (Mark 9:2-10). For a starter, the obvious succession of movements is too blatant to ignore. Old Testament allusions are prominently widespread and images dear to the Jewish traditions are palpable to be glossed over. As it were, reflections are therefore to be rooted on these elements for a better appreciation of the text.
One begins with the recognizable time element, which unfortunately is sundered apart from the text as found in the lectionary. "After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves" (Mk. 9:2). The indication that the event took place after six days (meta hemeras hex) need not be viewed as mere literary aesthetics. On close consideration it goes beyond mere temporal signpost. To a Jewish mind and to an early Christian audience it brings home the idea of creation, which lasted for six days and the day after (seventh) as a day of worship – being with God (Gen. 2:1-3). It is a day to enter into the "divine time", so to speak. Moreover, there is another allusion that could well lend further theological weight to this assertion. It was also about six days when the divine cloud enveloped Sinai and on the seventh God called Moses from the midst of the cloud (Ex. 24:16). It seems that by employing this language of worship to describe the event of the Transfiguration, the gospel wishes to convey that Jesus may only be seen as He truly is, in an ambit of worship - if one finds time to move away from the mundane.
Another very essential component of this story of the Transfiguration is Jesus' act of leading the apostles. The Greek verb anapherō (to lead up high) literally means to move from a lower position to a higher one. This action carries a deeper significance well beyond its geographical indication. And this manner of interpretation is theologically warranted here. More significantly it expresses the following nuances: “to carry and hand over something to someone” and “to offer as a sacrifice on the high place”. There appears an implicit cultic dimension ushering a divine sphere where man encounters and worships God. Hence, the preponderance of the author to highlight the “loftiness of the mountain” (Greek: oros hypsēlon) is not just a topographical insistence. Now, if the meaning of Jesus’ going up the mountain connotes as well the idea of entering into the presence of God in order to sacrifice (to worship) one cannot but look at the story of Abraham in Genesis 22 as another allusion to the story of the Transfiguration: the Father offering the beloved Son! A deeper message is revealed here: going up demands becoming a sacrifice. This perspective is constitutive of Christian ideal. Worship can never be done without sacrifice. But not only that, in this adoration, the Father does not receive the offering He is presenting his very Son to be the sacrifice.
Mark recounts that Jesus was transfigured before apostles. Again the Greek verb metamorphoō is crucial here. This indicates change that is physically visible to another yet revealing the inward and fundamental character or condition of the person. It is not mere appearance more than a manifestation of the nature of the person involved. It implies a deeper seeing. Hence, the transfiguration was the revelation of the true divinity of Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, a revelation of His divine Sonship. Although such transformation may have occurred physically yet it is an unveiling of his interior dignity, a glory that comes from an inner identity. The evangelist vividly describes such change by highlighting the dazzling brightness of his clothes (v.3). In ancient times light is characteristic of a person’s religious experience, transporting him into the realm of the gods. In a word, Jesus was covered with light (Greek: stilbō) that renders everything around him radiant. This heavenly brilliance displays a divine reality unfolding, that is, whoever draws near to Jesus always finds the light that comes from within Him. Only in truly knowing and authentically seeing Him as He is, one finds strength and vigour. He becomes the light that dispels the darkness of anguish and the shadow of indifference.
Subsequently, the gospel presents Moses and Elijah conversing (Greek: sullalēō) with Jesus (Mk. 9:4). What role do they play in the account? Both had the singular chance of seeing God face to face and of talking to Him directly (cf. Exodus 24:16 ff. and 1Kings 19:8). In the case of the Transfiguration they continue to do so. However, this time they are now talking to Jesus Christ, God-made-man. The overshadowing cloud (Mk. 9:7) validates and extends this divine exchange. As it were, God made the apostles enter into the realm of the divine conversation in order for them to clearly see the message. In Exodus 40:34ff, the cloud overshadowed the tent pitched by Moses himself. The cloud is a mode of divine efficacy and possession. Thus, these disciples are now privy to what is going on. The voice from the cloud made it clearer: “This is my beloved Son to Him you listen” (Mk. 9:7). One could well say that listening was the antidote to Peter's fear and confusion. Furthermore, this conversation is a new paradigm of discipleship: a follower listens and talks to Jesus. Just like Moses and Elijah, believers hear the message in order to bring it to the people. In other words, the apostles who were with Jesus on that mountain are now the representatives of a new generation of prophets who are supposed to listen in order to speak out – to God on behalf of the people and to the people on behalf of God. A disciple who listens (and therefore follows) necessarily transforms into an apostle, one who is sent.
Not to be forgotten is Peter's perplexed suggestion. Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (Mk. 9:5). Too muddled is this statement that the author decided to explain it: he hardly knew what to say for they were terrified. The Greek term skēnē (tabernacle, tent) suggests an Old Testament experience of God’s SHEKINAH, that is to say the glory of God revealed as He conversed with His servants in tents during the desert experience. Peter may have thoughtlessly proposed to build three tabernacles. Nonetheless it was the “good” that he felt at that time. It was out of bewilderment and fright but a “good” nevertheless. In other words, when a person beholds the glory of Jesus and listens to the Lord, his thoughts will always be turned to what is good. And the greatest good that a disciple needs to discover is none other than Jesus Himself: Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them (Mk. 9:8).
Those studying the Synoptic gospels generally agree that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-8 was to strengthen the disciples in view of the approaching passion in Jerusalem. The initiative directly comes from Jesus Christ. By allowing them to move and soar up high to the realm of the divine Jesus revealed His glory to them and strengthened them for the impending suffering. Now if there is consolation here, the apostles knew that after this event God in Jesus Christ journeys with them.