Today’s gospel is the transfiguration of Jesus, but to me it’s really about the transfiguration of Peter, John, James—and us. Up to this point the disciples were following Jesus and buying into what he was teaching, but when they saw him in the presence of Moses and Elijah, they were astounded—to the point where Peter “did not know what he was saying.” That was followed by fright when they were all enveloped in a dark cloud—until hearing the voice of God .
Jesus’ followers were on an emotional roller coaster, not knowing how to interpret all these miracles and visions. Nevertheless, fear seems to be the dominant emotion—not only in today’s gospel reading, but in the first reading from Genesis, where Abram also entered a “deep, terrifying darkness” before hearing God’s message of hope. And in his letter to the Philippians, Paul tearfully mourns the spiritual death of those whose God is their stomach. But he too raises a message of transformational hope for the day when God will change our lowly body in conformance with Christ’s glorified body.
The transformations in today’s readings presaged the spiritual evolution that some of our greatest saints experienced. St. John of the Cross described it best in his “Dark Night of the Soul,” where he escapes the darkness of separation from God by purifying his senses and his spirit in preparation for divine union. Appropriately enough, St. John of the Cross wrote of his dark night while in prison—a place of spiritual desolation. Prison is also a state of mind, and many alive today are no different from those people of Paul’s time—prisoners of their own bodily desires, separated from experiencing God’s transformational love.
But because we are prisoners, just as St. John of the Cross was, there’s still hope that in our darkest hour we will hear God’s whisper of hope—and witness our own transfiguration.