When we read this passage of the transfiguration of Jesus, many would see it as proof that Jesus is completely unique, that he is completely above us... proof that Jesus is the Divine Son of God. the light of the world who comes to rescue us from our miserable and deplorable state in which we have no capacity at all for doing anything good.
But what if that is not the only way of interpreting this passage...?
What if the shining face of Jesus in this passage reveals to us who we have always been meant to be... that we were all made by God to shine like Jesus?
In Luke’s version of the story, unlike Mark and Matthew’s version, we are told that Moses and Elijah also appear in their glory. In Mark and Matthew’s versions, Elijah and Moses simply appear, but in Luke, they are described as appearing in their glory, a reminder that this is God’s intention for all humanity, not just Jesus.
Throughout the gospels we read clues that suggest that this is how Jesus viewed the rest of humanity... that we all have this inherent potential to be like Jesus, to shine. Yes, human beings have an enormous capacity for evil and wickedness too, but we also all have this inherent potential to reveal God’s life and light in the world.
In John’s Gospel chapter 10, we find Jesus speaking to the Pharisees. These are his arch rivals. In that passage they denounce Jesus for claiming to be the son of God. They say he is from the devil because he has spoken blasphemy... and then Jesus says to them an intriguing thing:
“Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law [in Psalms 82:6], “ ‘You are gods’ ”?
In other words, in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ claim to be God’s Son should not surprise his opponents, because in their very scriptures, God refers to them as gods. Jesus is speaking to his enemies, those who will later be responsible for putting Jesus to death: To them Jesus says: Your own scriptures say: you are gods.
We were all meant to shine. Johns Gospel suggests that human beings have the spark of the divine within them, human beings are gods who have somehow forgotten the great dignity of who we were created to be. We have forgotten how to shine.
The parable of the prodigal son, another of those stories that only appears in Luke’s Gospel suggests the same truth. The prodigal son has always been a son of his father. Even when he wanders far off and squanders his life in riotous living... even when he has forgotten who he is... the father in the story has never forgotten his son’s true identity, that his son was made to shine and not to live in pig sties.
In the beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: Blessed are the peace-makers, they will be called the offspring of God. In this saying, Jesus is operating on the assumption that we all have this potential within us to be peace-makers in the world. We were all meant to shine.
A little further on in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says to the crowds who have gathered around him to listen to his teaching:
“You are the light of the world he says” (Matt 5:14). In other words, this is who you were created to be, you were made to shine. These would have been powerful words spoken by Jesus, mostly to peasants who would have been regarded as unclean by the religious elite of the day.
Just as Jesus is the light of the world, so Jesus says that we too have been created in God’s image to reflect God’s light. We too have been made to be the light of the world.
When we fail to shine, it means we are not living into our truest and deepest identity. When we fail to shine, it is a sign that we have forgotten who we really are, forgotten who we were meant to be.
At the end of John’s Gospel, in that moving scene where Jesus meets with Mary Magdalene in the garden, as Jesus leaves her he tells her: ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’
In this dramatic scene, Jesus makes no distinction between himself and Mary. She too is an off-spring of God. She just hasn’t been aware of it. She too has the spark of divine life within her. Up until this point, she has thought that it was only in Jesus. She too was made to shine. Up until this point, she thought that it was only Jesus that was the light of the world.
Going back to the scene of the transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel, Luke adds two new dimension to the story that are not part of Mark or Matthews version. Firstly in Mark’s and Matthew’s versions, we are not told why Jesus goes up the mountain. In Luke’s version, we are told that Jesus goes up to pray, to commune with God – this is a favourite theme of Luke. Secondly in Mark and Matthew’s versions of the story, the three disciples are awake the whole time. In Luke’s version, while Jesus is praying a heavy sleep has come over the disciples. In Luke’s version, the disciples only wake up half-way through the story. And it is only when they wake up, that they see the glory of Jesus.
It is a powerful image. The disciples in this story stand as a symbol for humanity who has fallen asleep to the glory of God. Like the disciples, there is a heavniness and a darkness that has come over us that prevents us seeing God’s glory. They are asleep in their ignorance about themselves. They have forgotten they they were made to shine. When they do wake up, they see the glory of God shining through Jesus. Seeing the glory of God’s light in Jesus is one of the first steps for them in discover that as Jesus has told them that they too are the light of the world. They too were made to shine.
I would like to close with a poem written by Andrew King as a meditation on this passage:
AWAKEN US - (by Andrew King)
(Luke 9: 28-36)
“. . .but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory”
Awaken us in the fall of the snow, the drop of the rain,
the crash of the rolling thunder.
Awaken us in the song of the bird, the laugh of the child,
the gentle hug from another.
Awaken us in the flick of the fish, the leap of the fox,
the lean of the weeping willow.
Awaken us in the sift of the breeze, the lift of the hymn,
the gift of a bed and pillow.
Awaken us in the peal of the bell, the coffee’s smell,
the feel of running water.
Awaken us in the starlight’s gleam, the hot meal’s steam,
the flash of the diving otter.
Awaken us in the eagle’s flight, the mountain’s height,
the joy of the talk with a friend.
Awaken us in early morning calm, the medicine’s balm,
the quiet of evening’s end.
Awaken us in the sip of wine, the warm sunshine,
the colour of leaves in autumn.
Awaken us in the caring word, the truth that’s heard,
the fragrance of spreading blossoms.
Awaken us far, awaken us near,
awaken us with your story.
Awaken us from where we have come to be here,
awakened to all your glory.