A Faith That Does Justice engages he Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[1] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.

The contemplations of Jesus’ public ministry intend to help us come to know him, love him and follow him in the unfinished work of the kingdom of God. The Exercises of the second week include a contemplation on the Transfiguration.[2] As with the other contemplations of Jesus’ public ministry, we also end this one with the triple colloquy (conversation) of A Meditation on Two Standards.[3]

Just days prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus had asked his disciples how others perceived him.

“‘Who do people say that I am?’ They answered him, ‘Some say John the Baptist, and others Elijah; and still others one of the prophets.’ He then asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah. And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.” (Mk 8:27-29)

According to Mark’s account, six days later Jesus took Peter, John and James, his most trusted disciples, with him to seek the solitude of a high mountain.

“(There), he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.[4] He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So, they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what his rising from the dead could mean.[5] Then, they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’” (Mk 9:2-13)

The Transfiguration scene describes several events that left Jesus’ disciples confused and frightened. It would take the experience of Jesus’ resurrection for them to grasp the significance of what they had experienced that day before offering their lives in service to the unfinished work of the kingdom of God. The Transfiguration is worthy of our contemplation as we are now Jesus’ disciples who seek to understand what it means to come to know, love and follow him in both his humanity and divinity in our world today.

  • The Transfiguration was a simultaneous sharing in Jesus’ divine and human realities, a privileged proleptic experience of the risen and glorified Christ at the fulfillment of time. If Jesus is truly human and divine, we ought to take seriously how he lived, as it tells us something very profound about who God is and what God desires of us as human beings.
  • The presence of Moses and Elijah, symbols of the Law and the prophets, foreshadowed Jesus’ coming passion, as both men had already suffered at the hands of injustice before being vindicated by God. Pushback from society is a consequence of authentic commitment to discipleship with Jesus and worth recognizing as an unavoidable part of following him.
  • Moses and Elijah’s sudden disappearance from the scene makes clear Mark’s intent to signal that the old order had given way to Jesus, God’s chosen Son, as the central figure in God’s salvific plan for history. He is now the one to be listened to and followed as the way to salvation. Jesus makes clear that the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God only comes after witnessing to the struggle to make it more visible within the ongoing flow of history.
  • Jesus’ ordering his disciples to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had been raised from the dead indicates their failure to grasp who he is and the salvific value of his ministry – events they only understood following his resurrection from the dead. Today, the risen and glorified Christ is preferentially found among the suffering people of this world who witness to Jesus’ ongoing crucifixion in history alongside them, while rejoicing at their promise of resurrection because of their identification with his passion and death.
  • Jesus’ response to the Scribes’ insistence that Elijah must return to this earth before the Savior appears indicates that for Jesus, John the Baptist represented Elijah’s return. However, he was not accepted by the powerful of Jesus’ time, as they “did to him whatever they pleased.” The Spirit of Jesus remains in this world until he comes again. We are called to allow the Spirit to lead us to where God will have us go as we participate with Jesus in the ongoing creation and salvation of this world.

The Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-9; Lk 9:28-36; Mt 17:1-9) is linked to Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22; Mt 3:4) by their epiphanies, as God’s voice breaks into this world to declare Jesus is God’s Beloved Son. Moreover, both experiences serve as harbingers of dramatic changes in Jesus’ life. Following Jesus’ baptism, he left his life, presumably as a carpenter in Nazareth, to preach throughout Galilee that the kingdom of God had irrupted into this world by his words and actions. Following the Transfiguration, he left his ministry in Galilee for Jerusalem and its temple, the very heart of Jewish faith, to bring God’s message of salvation to Israel’s elite.

According to Joseph Fitzmyer in his commentary on The Gospel of Luke I-IX, what actually happened during the Transfiguration, “is impossible to say.”[6] Some theologians speculate the Transfiguration resolved Jesus’ “Galilean Crisis” and gave him a new sense of purpose.[7] That is, it occurred during a time when his ministry in Galilee had begun to falter. The Jewish authorities were becoming increasingly hostile towards him, his apostles continued to fail to grasp the salvific meaning of his work, and some of his initial followers began to abandon him. Perhaps most importantly, it was following this experience that Jesus made the decision to move steadfastly towards Jerusalem, where his passion and crucifixion awaited him.

Luke’s account of the Transfiguration follows Mark’s, even if he makes several redactions of the earlier version.[8] Most importantly, though, Luke maintains in this scene what is essential to his gospel. That is, Jesus, who began his ministry in Galilee as the Spirit-filled Son of God remains the same Spirit-filled person at his Transfiguration. Filled with that Spirit, he responds to the call he has now heard and moves towards Jerusalem with absolute fidelity to God’s will despite the peril that awaits him there.

Twenty centuries after Jesus walked upon this earth, Christians believe he was unjustly crucified, then raised from the dead to live forever in the fullness of God’s love. We also believe he will come again to usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God at the denouement of time.

Today, we are called to continue the work of the first disciples by witnessing to the unfinished work of the kingdom of God. It is a discipleship that will move us beyond an intellectual ascent to dogma to one that is lived with our heart, hands and feet on behalf of a just world order where all God’s people can live with dignity and become the people God intends them to be.

Let us pray for the courage to follow Jesus, accepting the inevitable suffering that comes from doing so. Let us also trust that our fidelity to God’s will and discipleship with Jesus will one-day lead us to rejoice with him in the fullness of God’s love in kingdom of God.

After contemplating the Transfiguration and its implications for authentic discipleship with Jesus today, we then end this Exercise with the triple colloquy of a Meditation on Two Standards as mentioned above.

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.

[2] L. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Section 284.

[3] Ibid., Section 147.

[4] Boring, Mark: A Commentary, 261-62. Boring states that although there is a biblical account of Moses death (Deut 34:5-8), by the first-century Jewish thought was that “neither Moses nor Elijah had died but had been taken directly to heaven. Both were prophetic figures, rejected in their own time, who suffered because of their faithfulness to their mission – but God vindicated them by taking them into the heavenly world without death. Jesus, rejected in his own time, glows with heavenly glory and ultimately belongs to that world, but remains in this world to suffer and die. The glorious form of Jesus’ appearance is a revelation of his form as the Son of Man at the Parousia (8:38), but first he must go the way of suffering and death. Only resurrection will place him in the transcendent world.”

[5] The synoptic gospels reveal Jesus predicted he would suffer and die before being raised from the dead, once in the days before the Transfiguration, and then two more times as he made his way to Jerusalem (Mk 8:31, 9:30-31, 10:33-34; Lk 9:21-22, 44, 18; 31-33, Mt 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19).

[6] J.A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, 1981), 96-97; M.E. Boring, Mark: A Commentary, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988), 261.

[7] Sobrino, Jesus, the Liberator, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993), 150-51. See also, Gonzalez Faus, Adiestrar la Libertad, (Santander: Sal Terre, 2007), 49-50.

[8] Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, 791-95. Luke extends the length of time from when Jesus’ asked his disciples about how the people perceived him to the Transfiguration to “about 8-days” (9:28), perhaps to emphasize a full weeks’ duration of time. He also makes explicit that Jesus’ intent in taking Peter, John and James with him was “to pray” (9:28), likely about a ministry he recognized was faltering. Moreover, while Mark speaks of a conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Luke specifies it as related to his “departure” (9:31), that is, his exodus from this world through his suffering and death in Jerusalem. Finally, in Luke’s version of this scene, Peter refers to Jesus as “Master” (8:33) and not Rabbi, the latter being a more appropriate designation, given Peter’s proleptic experience of Jesus in his glorified post-resurrection state.