Most Christian denominations celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration every August. It’s one of those holy days that seems significant, but I never understood what all the fuss was about.
My spiritual teacher told me we can view this event and all of scripture through what the Jewish tradition calls “midrash.” This form of reading the bible allows us to reimagine the dominant themes in scripture while pondering new ways to apply them to our lives.
According to Wikipedia, midrash asks questions of the text. Sometimes it provides answers, and other times it leaves the reader to answer the questions.
So, here’s my midrash cut at the Transfiguration.
If Jesus were fully human, it’s possible he didn’t know how his life would unfold. Like each of us, Jesus had to figure out who he was, what was his purpose, and why he was placed here on earth.
As Jesus grew into adulthood, he pieced together the scriptures, spent time alone in meditation, and conversed with his Father to better understand himself and God.
Maybe Jesus didn’t know he would be crucified and resurrected. Maybe he was as clueless about the end of his life as we are about our deaths.
On the day of the Transfiguration, perhaps Jesus thought he was going to the mountaintop to pray, like he often did. Imagine the surprised look on his face when Moses and Elijah showed up.
“This must be a top-level meeting,” Jesus might have joked when the two superheroes appeared. “What’s up? Why did Dad send you two?”
“Jesus, we have something to tell you,” Moses might have replied. “Your Father wants to show his Divine Love for all humanity. He wants to tell the world you can do anything to him, even kill you, and God will still love humanity with unconditional love. That’s his nature. And he’ll go one step, further. He’ll place the Divine Spirit in each person so they can know the depth and breadth of God’s guiding grace for them.”
Elijah stepped into the conversation. “But your Father does not force his will upon anyone. You have a choice. You get to decide your fate.”
“What do you mean?” Jesus’ throat tightened with fear. “C’mon, tell me what’s going to happen.”
“If you choose to follow the Father’s will, it’s going to get bloody. You’re going to be put to death. Crucified. After three days, you will rise from the dead. Your death will be transformed into resurrection.”
Jesus’ voice quivered. “Why this? Why now? I can’t do it. I won’t do it. It’s too much for me. What if I say, ‘No?’ Will the Father still love me?”
“Yes,” Moses nodded his head. Your Father loves you and all of us with unconditional love. If you say ‘No,’ he’ll find another way to express his love. He always does. We know it’s a lot to place on a man. But humanity depends upon it. Without your sacrifice, billions of humans will be forever lost. They won’t understand the depth and breadth of God’s unending love for them.”
Tears streamed down Jesus’ face. “I should’ve realized what the scriptures were telling me. I didn’t know it would end this way.”
Elijah continued the conversation.
“Just like when God placed you in Mary’s womb and transformed her into the Mother of God with the power of the Holy Spirit, if you choose to carry out the Father’s plan, the Holy Spirit will illuminate you with God’s power. You will receive every gift you need to endure the suffering you will go through, and God will transform your pain and death into light and love.”
Jesus took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
And then it happened.
Radiant heavenly light showered down from the skies upon Jesus. His face relaxed, his eyes radiated with a faraway, ethereal glow. A smile played at his lips. His clothing faded in color until they were white, and then whiter than white, and then shimmering. Light emanated from his Being.
On that mountaintop, Jesus was transformed. Transfigured. He received the divine power to carry out a task that was far beyond human limitations. And we are graced with knowing the rest of the story.
What was it that caused Jesus to say, “Yes.”? I don’t know for sure.
I only know that each of us face moments in our lives when we must make tough choices about our life’s direction—not only about the big things, but also in the day-to-day showing up for life.
Perhaps you made holy vows that changed your life forever. Perhaps you vowed to join a holy order or live a life of chastity or poverty. Perhaps you vowed to minister to others. Maybe you chose to get married or remain single to carry out your unique tasks of love in life.
Or perhaps you’ve had times when you didn’t know how you were going to move forward. How you’d have the strength to forgive and love and push through whatever hardships you’ve endured.
Perhaps you’ve faced addictions, financial struggles, a life-threatening illness, or the death of a loved one. Maybe facing another day and having to choose between despair or hope is your toughest choice right now.
Is it God that transfigures us in those moments when we must choose which path to follow or is it the power of our faith-filled “Yes” that allows us to make our best guess as to what God invites us to do?
Perhaps because God loves us unconditionally both his power and our choices are needed for us to be transformed, transfigured. And regardless of our choices, God still loves us. Unconditionally.
Several years ago, I suffered a stroke. I laid in the hospital bed late at night waiting for test results. I had a moment where I experienced God’s presence in a mystical way. I asked God, whether I was going to live or die.
I heard a Divine whisper. “You can choose to come to heaven now or you can stay on earth and carry out what I would like you to do. Which do you prefer?”
I had the sense God would love me regardless of my response. He had given me a free choice. After deep thought, I told the Creator I would like to stay here on earth, continue to love my wife, children, and grandchildren and use my gifts however God desired.
In that moment I felt God’s power surround me. My weakened body energized with the Divine Light of courage. Resilience. Looking back over that experience, I can say I was transfigured—transformed somehow by God’s grace.
The Transfiguration is not a story about just Jesus. It’s our story too.
No matter what we face in this life, we have the power of God within us. It’s the Divine Transforming Power that has and always will guide us, fill us with resilience, and transform our sufferings into resurrections. It’s the same power that God gave Jesus to accomplish a divine act.
Look back over your life and name those moments of your transfigurations. Claim them as real. Recall how God illuminated you through the hardships, empowered you to become something more than you thought you could be.
Also, consider the people you walk alongside as a friend or mentor as they transform and grow into the fullness of their Being. Celebrate with God how your life helps others transfigure into something new and beautiful.
Every day we are being transformed into the image and likeness of who we already are in Christ. Every day in big and small ways we are transfigured when we lean into the power of grace.
Every day our faces can be filled with gratitude and glory, our clothing turned into dazzling white as we say “Yes” to the God who holds us in the palm of the Creator’s divine hand, and reminds us, “See I make all things new.”
As you go about your day, consider centering yourself with this simple prayer:
Transfigure me, O Lord.
Illuminate me with your Light and Love.
—brian j plachta
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