The Glory of Christ
On the cross, Christ is humiliated, shamed, and suffering. To ordinary people passing by, he looks more like a loser than a winner in life. And yet we treasure the crucifix because it is the symbol of God’s love made manifest to us. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that we should not die but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Could anything be more glorious than this love? The glory of Christ is shown on the cross!
But in the Gospel reading for this Sunday, we see Christ glorious in a more obvious and ordinary way. Up on a mountain, Christ is transfigured. His clothes are radiant, and so is he. Moses and Elijah come to talk to him. And a voice from heaven proclaims that Jesus is God’s beloved Son, in whom God is well-pleased. In this transfiguration, Christ looks both lovely and powerful, a winner rather than a loser on anybody’s view. And Christ takes just Peter, James, and John up to the mountain to see his transfiguration.
Why would Christ allow himself to be transfigured in this way before his passion? And why would Christ want to show himself transfigured to his followers? Shouldn’t his suffering be for us the right way to understand true glory?
Maybe the reason for his transfiguration shares something with the reason for his resurrection. If Christ had not been resurrected, we might have supposed that suffering (or at least, suffering for the Lord) is all there is to glory. And then we might have gotten confused and thought that there is something specially good about suffering taken all by itself. Maybe Christ allows himself to be transfigured so that his followers will understand even before the grieving events of the crucifixion that suffering is not the end of the story, not for Christ and not for his followers either.
But then why do only Peter, James, and John witness Christ in glory in this way?
Well, these three apostles went on to suffer greatly for Christ. James and Peter were among the first martyrs, and John shepherded the church through severe persecutions. Christ helped them get ready for those trials by strengthening them with the vision of his transfiguration.
Consolation increases with affliction, the apostle Paul says (2 Cor 1:5). That is a consoling thought for us, isn’t it?
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University