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Gospel for Sunday, August 06: Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration of the Lord

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John his brother and led them away to a high mountain. 2And he was transfigured before them: his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as the light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. 4Taking the floor, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here! If you want, I will make three huts here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5He was still speaking, when a bright cloud covered them with its shadow. And behold, a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the beloved: in him have I set my pleasure. Listen to him.” 6On hearing this, the disciples fell with their faces to the ground and were seized with great fear. 7But Jesus approached, touched them and said, “Rise and do not be afraid.” 8When they looked up, they saw no one but Jesus alone.9As they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Do not tell anyone about this vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

Mt 17:1-9

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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Today’s Liturgy presents us again with the Gospel passage of the Transfiguration, which we have already meditated on in the Second Sunday of Lent A. For a more accurate exegesis, I refer you to that commentary. Here I would like to add a few considerations.

The Transfiguration of Jesus: the manifestation of his divine form

According to the Gospel account of the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-13; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36), Jesus “was transformed” (metemorphòte), underwent a metamorphosis, changed in appearance, or rather “was transformed” (divine passive: Mk 9:2; Mt 17:2), underwent a change of form in his clothes and body. Luke, fearing that gospel readers would understand this event as a myth, a metamorphosis in the manner of Greek pagan rites, prefers to use a more neutral expression: “the appearance of his face became other” (héteros: Lk 9:29).

Here we find how the event is actually inexpressible and how the language of the evangelists is inadequate: Matthew speaks of “garments as white as the light,” Mark describes them as “shining, very white, such as no launderer on earth could make them,” Luke calls them “blazing.” But it is only Matthew who identifies Jesus’ face as the object of such transformation, which becomes radiant as the sun. The three narratives thus attempt to describe the light of these garments, certainly not forgetting that light is the cloak with which God is clothed (cf. Sl 104:2); deep down, however, the source of this light is Jesus himself: that is why Jesus’ body was transfigured (Mk and Mt), his face shone like the sun (Mt) and the appearance of his face became other (Lk).

Instead of the human, everyday body and face of Jesus as the disciples knew him, the change provides the vision of another, luminous face, a face transfigured by an action that could only be divine. If Paul in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians confessed:

“He who was in the form of God (en morphê theoû)

did not consider it a jealous possession

his equality with God.

But he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave (morphè doúlou),

becoming similar to men,

recognized in form as man’ (Phil. 2:6-7).”

now in the transfiguration the one who had the form of a slave resumes his form as God and shines with divine light.

No one can escape, a second time, paralleling Moses who, when he descended from the Holy Mountain, “had not noticed that the skin of his face was radiant, from conversing with God” (Ex 34:29-35). Vv. 29-35 of Ex 34, of uncertain origin, relate traditions about the rays that emanated from Moses’ face, which vv. 29-33 connect to the descent from Sinai, vv. 34-35 to the Tent of Meeting. “Shine” in Hebrew is quaran: a misunderstanding with qeren, “horns,” caused the Vulgate to translate, “Cumque descenderet Moses de monte Sinai tenebat duas tabulas testimonii et ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies sua ex consortio sermonis Dei” (Ex. 34:29): “his face was horned.” Many depictions of Moses, including Michelangelo’s famous statue, depict him with these “horns” on his forehead. Paul will say, “If the ministry of death, engraved in letters on stones, was surrounded with glory, to such an extent that the children of Israel could not gaze upon the face of Moses because of the purely ephemeral splendor of his countenance, how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be?” (2 Cor. 3:7).

“On the high mountain Jesus was not seen by them in his ordinary condition as a frail and mortal man, but in another form: radiant with light, shining like the Lord sung about in Psalm 76 (“Shining with light are you and magnificent”: v. 5a) and Psalm 104 (“Wrapped in light as with a mantle”: v. 2a). To put it in Pauline parlance, the one who was “en morphê theoû,” “in the form of God,” and had taken the “morphé doúlou,” “the form of a slave” (cf. Phil. 2:6-7), now takes again the form of God and thus shines. Thus the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: ‘Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it’ (Is 40:5), and what is witnessed in the fourth gospel happens: ‘And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we beheld his glory’ (Jn 1:14)” (E. Bianchi).

Transfigure ourselves and transfigure the world

“But here we ask a question. Since it is written in Mark and Matthew that Jesus “was transfigured émprosthen autôn, before them” (Mk. 9:2; Mt. 17:2), and only before them, then we ask: Was it Jesus’ body that was transfigured or was it the disciples who, by the grace of a revelation, saw in Jesus’ frail, human flesh his divine glory? Origen already asked this question, and concluded that it was the disciples who underwent a transfiguration of their sight in faith, to the point of seeing in the humanity of the Servant, in the form of the slave, the form of God. He wrote, “Do you attempt to know whether the disciples, when Jesus was transfigured before those he had made to go up the high mountain, saw Jesus in the form of God, that which was his first, having taken down here the form of a slave? Well, listen to these words, if you are able, in a spiritual sense, and notice that it is not just said “he was transfigured,” but “he was transfigured before them,” as Matthew and Mark say. You will therefore conclude that it is possible that Jesus before some is transfigured and before others is not” (Commentary on Matthew XII:37,1-21 [on Mt. 17:2]).

But for this revelation, this apocalypse to be authentic and definitive for the disciples, here is also the vision of the Law and the Prophets, of Moses and Elijah conversing with Jesus. Moses and Elijah, servants of the Lord, appear here in the glorious condition of living with God, as witnesses of Jesus’ glory. The Law and the Prophets, who on the high mountain had seen the theophany, the manifestation of God and His glory (cf. Ex 19:16-25; 24:12-18,33:18-34:28; 1 Kings 19:8-18), now on the high mountain see the Christophany, the manifestation of the Messiah Jesus! It is manifestation, this, of the Word of God spoken by the Law and the Prophets and made flesh in Jesus” (E. Bianchi).

The transfiguration is a mystery of transformation: our body and this creation are called to transfiguration, to become “other”; our body of misery will become a body of glory (cf. Phil. 3:21), and “the creation groaning and suffering in the pangs of childbirth” (cf. Rom. 8:22) will know the change into “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). What happened on Mount Tabor in Jesus Christ will happen for all believers and the entire cosmos at the end of history.

“To celebrate the Eucharist is to live in anticipation of the transfiguration in communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters: the Word is transfigured into bread and wine and these into food, which in turn is transfigured into our lives. In this way, the Eucharist becomes a project of transformation that must engage us in our history: we have an obligation to transform the bread of our possibilities into bread for all so that there may be no hungry in the world; we have the task of transfiguring what we live and do and touch so that peace may be called justice. Jesus does not remain on the mount of transfiguration but descends into the world of daily history to bring the gospel of transformation to the men and women he will meet on his way to the city of God: the city of ultimate transfiguration that changes death into life and the cross from an instrument of torture and death into a symbol of mercy and redemption. We are witnesses of this. We proclaim it with our lives” (Fr. Farinella).

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at


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