The theme of the cross bookends the Transfiguration.
Just prior to the Transfiguration Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me…” (Mt 16:24) and the narrative ends with, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9). The cross indeed looms over the Transfiguration, but Peter (c.f., “…upon this rock (Peter) I will build my church,” Mt 16:18) and the disciples seemed unable to see it.
When Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and were transfigured, Peter and the disciples fixated on the vision of the three, but lost sight of the cross entirely. They saw Moses as the Lawgiver, but lost sight that Moses led a slave uprising. They saw Elijah as Messiah, but lost sight that Elijah fought battles to keep the Jewish people resilient in the face of oppression. All Peter wanted was to remain on top of the mountain: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Mt 17:4) Like some Christians who see the beauty of episcopal processions, brocaded albs, and starched altar linens, but refuse to see the conditions of unhoused persons living in tents under freeway overpasses, Peter was indeed rather myopic in his vision.
Peter’s reverie was shattered immediately by God. A bright cloud cast a shadow over him and a voice echoed words said at Jesus’ rising from the Jordan, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 3:17 & Mt 17:5) Perhaps out of embarrassment, but most likely out of fear, Peter and the disciples fell prostrate — a posture of unconditional surrender — and were rendered silent. The Transfiguration story closes with the cross once again looming over the disciples.
Rather than staying on top the mountain, we are anxious to get back down and do the work. As at the Transfiguration, over which the cross casts its shadow, we also see God’s glory peeking through the clouds in the form of resilience: We see unhoused clients open up over time and share their story. We see English learners finally getting through their first oral presentation with confidence. Teens on probation learn job skills, and children and parents listen to each other and resolve simmering resentments.
Our work is Transfiguration.
Fr. Jon Pedigo is assigned to work at Catholic Charities by the Diocese of San José. Ordained in 1991, Fr. Pedigo served in many parishes and has been involved in justice and peace ministry, interfaith relations, and community organizing. He serves as the Director for Advocacy and Community Engagement for Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.
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