What Happened on That Mountain?

Near the end of the ninth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” What caused Jesus to be so resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem, knowing that such an act would intensify the opposition that had already started to build against him.

The key to understanding Jesus’ determination is the experience we hear proclaimed in today’s Gospel, the event we refer to as the Transfiguration of Jesus. Luke tells us that Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter, John and James to pray. As He so often does, Jesus seeks guidance from God as to what hie next steps should be.

And something happens when Jesus goes up to that mountain to pray. We are told of the appearance of Moses and Elijah, who speak with Jesus of “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” A cloud, a sign of God’s prseence appears, and from it a voice declaring (as it did at His Baptism) that “this is my chosen son.” And whatever else went on in that prayer, we know that Jesus is changed by the experience. Barbara Reid, O.P. writes,

In this profound encounter with God, Jesus receives surety about his next steps, and this “aha” experience is visible on his face. Notably, Luke does not say that Jesus was transfigured; rather, that ‘his face changed in appearance.’ Like Moses, whose face was radiant after being with God on Mount Sinai (Ex 34:29), and Hannah, whose face was lifted up after her prayer was heard (1 Sm 1:18), so Jesus’ encounter with God is written on his face…During this intense prayer of discernment, Jesus is given sure signs that he is guided by God in his choice.

Jesus’ experience reassures him of God’s love and gives him the strength he needs to “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

It is important that we hear this Gospel as not just a story about a remarkable thing that happened to Jesus. Rather, we ought to reflect on what reassurance we need from God to make the hard choices we are asked to make and follow Jesus’ example of prayerful discernment. Our own “aha” moments may not be as vivid or splashy as the Gospel descriptions of the Transfiguration, but God will give us the same strength, assurance and confirmation He gave to Jesus.