Saint Peter in a moment of revelation had publicly acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah and Savior. He could see himself as Christ’s right hand man in a thriving Kingdom of God. But then Jesus had added words which Peter did not want to hear. Jesus assured him of glory in a resurrection, but only after He suffered grievously through public rejection and death.
Peter wanted the glory but not the suffering. And at this point Jesus corrects him, telling him he is a stumbling block like Satan. Peter is seeing things from a purely human point of view not as God sees them. Peter must have been confused by this put-down and the further words of Jesus that only by being willing to lose your life will you save it. A few days later Peter experiences the Transfiguration, when Jesus leads him and James and John up on a high mountain.
Jesus is transfigured and His clothes become a dazzling white, a symbol of divine glory. And there on the mountain talking to Jesus are the great prophetic figures of Israel, Moses and Elijah. Now this is the type of experience that Peter was hoping for; heavenly glory separated from the miseries of earthly reality. Peter wants to capture this divine mountain-top experience in some kind of permanent way saying to Jesus “Master let us set up three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
There is no sharp separation between heavenly and earthly, between divine and human in Jesus. When He is transfigured the divine glory breaks through His humanity. Jesus will save us through His humanity, through His human body by taking on the sufferings of the world; not by separating Himself from them. The glory will come in the resurrection, but first He will show His divine love by giving Himself in sacrifice on the cross. The Father confirms this truth from the cloud by telling Peter, James and John to listen to His beloved Son. They are to listen to Jesus when He tells them that the path of suffering eventually brings new life out of death.
They come down from the mountain top and the sufferings of the world impinge upon them. A father desperate for a cure for his mute and epileptic son pleads with Jesus to help. He heals the boy. It is a sign that God’s kingdom is breaking through and pushing back Satan’s kingdom. Jesus continues His journey to Jerusalem. There His glory will be revealed not apart from His humanity but in weakness and pain as He hangs on the cross. As St Paul explains so well that at this moment the light of God’s glory shines most brightly in the darkness of this world.
Peter helps us on our Lenten journey as most of us resist the prospect of suffering. We want to belong to Christ’s Church, but prefer that it was a thriving community without pain and suffering. After Pentecost when Peter received the Holy Spirit he was called to lead the Church. At first glance it looks as though the story of the Church in the Acts of the Apostle is only one of success; it gets bigger and better. It is a thriving community. But Peter found very soon that a thriving Church includes suffering. The Holy Spirit led Peter to new missions, but eventually it also led him to prison, suffering and death. However, the Holy Spirit also gradually shaped his interior life to conform to the pattern of Christ’s own life. His spiritual growth allowed Peter to accept his failures, joys, sorrows, successes, opposition, and even his martyrdom.
Amidst the many worldwide sufferings of the Church and her members today, which Lent tell us is part of the vocation of being a Catholic, the wonderful light of the Transfiguration shines through the darkness. Saint Peter discovered this for himself and Saint Paul says it so well; “the sufferings of the present time are little, compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”