Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
“Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” (cf. verse 28b-29)
Today's Gospel describes the transfiguration of Jesus, in which his glory becomes visible. It actually says literally says, "After eight days Jesus took Peter, John and James with him." But what had happened eight days ago? At that time, Jesus' great prophecy of suffering took place, in which he introduced his disciples to what would happen to the Son of Man in Jerusalem, namely, that he would suffer and be killed. He invited them to follow him to Jerusalem on the basis of this prediction of suffering. So now they had eight days to contemplate and so they could think about the seriousness of his words. But probably they did not really want to believe all this. Now the transfiguration on the mountain shows that Jesus is the Lord of glory in spite of the suffering of which he had spoken eight days before. Therefore, this transfiguration on the mountain is a strengthening for the three apostles in the present challenge, which shows itself in the fact that they cannot do anything with this suffering, of which Jesus had spoken, and actually do not want it at all.
Jesus takes with him from the twelve only these three confidants. They were also witnesses at the raising of the daughter of Jaïrus and they will also be witnesses of his agony. They will be with him at the Mount of Olives. That is why he wants to strengthen them. The transfiguration indicates that the way goes is through the suffering into his glory - the way of Jesus and the way of the one who follows him, because he has invited them to follow him there.
When Jesus goes up a mountain to pray, he is close to God. This ascent of the mountain indicates at the same time that what is to happen now is removed from the natural sphere. On the mountain something happens that is no longer only natural, but comes from God, as on Mount Sinai, where God meets Moses. In the Scriptures, the mountain is always the place of God's revelation to man. In a way, Jesus is already looking from Mount Tabor to the Mount of Olives, where these three apostles will be with him. The Mount of Olives is the mountain of completion. And here as there, on Tabor as on the Mount of Olives, Jesus prays.
“And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” (cf. verse 30-32)
Then it says - again, this Bible word "idou" (ιδου), this startling word, you could almost translate it as, "Look, something extraordinary!" - "two men talked with him". Moses and Elijah, who talk to him about his end in Jerusalem, indicate the inner connection of the Old Testament with the coming of Jesus and stand here for the Law and the Prophets. What Moses and the prophets said about Jesus - also that he would suffer - is now, as it were, unrolled once again here on the Mount of Transfiguration. And after his resurrection, Jesus also declares to the Emmaus disciples what Moses and the prophets wrote about him, namely: He will suffer and enter into his glory.
It is described how the appearance of Jesus' face changes and he stands in radiant light, as Moses did at that time on Mount Sinai. That is why Jesus is called the second Moses, and Moses says about him, "A prophet like me the Lord will choose you from among your brothers." But with Jesus, the glow on his face comes from his inner glory, not from outside as with Moses.
Here, at Tabor, as later also at the Mount of Olives, the three disciples sleep. Sleeping is always a good method when one does not want to hear something. And these three disciples do not want to hear about the suffering of Jesus. And when Jesus then really goes into suffering on the Mount of Olives, they sleep again. This is perhaps also the reason why some people sleep during the sermon: they simply do not want to hear the words of the priest.
“And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.” (cf. verse 33-36)
The three disciples probably did not hear anything of the conversation, because they were asleep and did not want to hear anything. And probably they would not have understood also at that time probably still, what that means: from the dead rise. Only when Moses and Elijah wanted to say goodbye to Jesus, they wake up. Peter then wants to build permanent huts, not just tents that can easily be taken down. He wants to stay there. He does not want to go any further. He does not want to go to Jerusalem, where Jesus has to suffer. Then it is said so beautifully: "But he did not know what he was saying." Just as Jesus later says from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" (Lk 23:34). Peter does not know what he is saying and what he wants to do, that he would actually prevent the salvation of the world with his desires and ideas. He only knows, "It is good that we are here." But he cannot do anything with the suffering of Jesus.
What Peter wants earthly, namely to build huts, God then does in his own way by enveloping them all - including the apostles - in a cloud. Now they have their hut, because now they are enveloped. In the Scriptures, the cloud is always the sign of God's presence, the sign of His glory. And whenever the cloud appears, when the glory of God becomes present, man falls into anxiety and fear. Let us think of the cloud in the Tent of Revelation or the cloud at the dedication of Solomon's temple. No one could enter in each case, either into the Tent of Revelation or into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, as long as the cloud rested on it - that is the presence of God. So the cloud here is apparently more fearsome than Jesus himself. The three disciples have endured the sight of the transfigured Jesus, but when they come into the cloud, into the presence of God the Father, they become afraid.
And then they hear the voice of God, "This is my chosen Son, to him you shall listen." - to him! Word and transfiguration complement each other here. More than to Moses and the prophets, one must listen to the Son, to Jesus. True discipleship does not consist of meaningless activity, as with Peter. Building huts is senseless activism that wants to hold God down, as it were, and ultimately even hinder salvation. True discipleship, however, takes place in listening to the Kyrios, to the beloved Son of the Father.
Of course, we too must ask ourselves again and again: Are we listening to the Word of God? Do we read the Scriptures, even at home? Are we living the true discipleship of Jesus? ∎