by Father Mike Stubbs
Sunday’s Gospel story, Mt 17:1-9, immediately raises some questions. It tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Jesus.
We might ask how the evangelist was able to identify them. After all, they had been dead for centuries. No one alive had ever seen them.
Did Jesus inform Peter, James and John of the identity of these strangers? Or, did they introduce themselves to the disciples, who in turn passed on this information to the evangelist? How did the evangelist learn about all this?
Frankly, the evangelist did not concern himself with these questions, which can so easily fascinate the modern reader. The evangelist did not care how all this happened. Instead, the evangelist focused on why this wonderful encounter took place, why Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus.
Moses represented the Law, Elijah the prophets. Together, they stood for the entire Old Testament. In fact, whenever Jesus referred to the writings of the Old Testament, he would ordinarily use the phrase: “the law and the prophets” (Mt 5: 17; 11:13).
The question remains: Why did these figures representing the Old Testament appear with Jesus? What was the significance of their appearance?
By their presence with Jesus on the mountain, Moses and Elijah, representing the whole Old Testament, indicated their support of him. They endorsed Jesus’ message as a continuation of their own. Their presence looked forward to the endorsement that would come only a few moments later in the voice from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The voice from heaven is God speaking. God would also speak through his Son Jesus, the incarnate word of God. That is why we are instructed to listen to him.
It may sound strange to us that, on descending the mountain, one of the first things that Jesus tells the disciples is not to say anything about these marvelous events: “Jesus charged them, ‘Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’”
We might wonder why Jesus imposes this silence upon the disciples. In any case, it does not apply to us. Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Consequently, we cannot only listen to him, as the voice from heaven instructs us, we can also echo what he says. When we do that, we will be following in the footsteps of Peter, James and John, just as much as if we ourselves had been on the mountain.