The Transfiguration of Jesus is a story meant to light hope in the reader. Each of the Synoptics - today we look to Luke - wants to have his Gospel speak of this extraordinary event. Indeed, extraordinary, for there is nothing like it anywhere in the rest of Jesus' public life.
The term 'transifiguration' seems unrevealing, but can any one adequately describe what takes place in Jesus at this moment? 'Brightness' seems a common theme, but that means only 'glory' and 'truth' and 'majesty' and 'life' in biblical vocabulary. Jesus was, for a brief period, transformed. What scholars understand is that, for a short time, one who sees Jesus like this gets a vision of his divinity. Certainly, there were other signs that might suggest divinity of Jesus throughout his public life, particularly in Galilee, but that might and wisdom and goodness did not offer Jesus' audiences what this moment offers his disciples. Each Gospel, we recall, begins with the affirmation that Jesus is divine; and, if we understand them well, the audiences of each Gospel professed this belief, particularly in Baptism. Peter's response to Jesus is clear enough: he wants to stay here with Jesus, for he wants to stay with the Divine.
But each Synoptic also looks beyond the revelation of the divinity of Jesus. Note the position of each of these renditions. Each occurs as the final moment of revelation before the darkness and weakness and ugliness and pain of the Passion of Jesus. The Transfiguration is a revelation to the reader about Jesus, a revelation to be carried through the boiling turmoil to which the reader draws close. We won't see Jesus transfigured at the trial and at the cross. We are to remember. Another way of saying this is that we should listen to what this Beloved Son of God says. In Luke's reading, there follows the word of Jesus that prophesies his death; that is what we are to listen to. But here we have not just the divine urging to listen to this prophecy. We have here, too, the truth about the one who will fulfill this prophecy.
And so it falls to the Christian to remember; particularly does the Gospel urge us to remember who our Jesus is, when we must face situations when he seems no longer ours. As usual, then, the story of Jesus is a story for us, for our perseverance, for the vision, not to be obscured by pain and death, of the one who has become human and hidden his divinity only because he loves us and wants to bring us home.
John Kilgallen, SJ