Open Your Bible
Matthew 17:1-27, Matthew 18:1-35
BY Jen Yokel
Celtic lore speaks of “thin places,” those spaces on earth where heaven shimmers through. Perhaps you’ve even heard the term “liminal space” describing a similar idea. Or maybe you’ve never had words for it, but you’ve felt the swell in your chest and the pricking of tears as you witness a stunning sunset, a transcendent piece of art, or the laughter of people you love around a table. In our ordinary lives, the extraordinary breaks through. We just need the eyes to see it.
The transfiguration is a story of Jesus inviting His friends to join Him in one of those moments. Until this point, Matthew’s gospel has focused on sermons, parables, and miracles, and Jesus has been talking to His followers about His fate in Jerusalem. Death is coming, but so is resurrection. This is the hard reality He is inviting His friends and disciples to follow Him toward.
Matthew’s Gospel is particularly focused on Jesus’s divine identity as the long-awaited Messiah, and this plays out in dramatic fashion when He invites Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain to seek God with Him. Praying in remote places isn’t unusual for any of them. The astonishing part is when He is transformed right in front of them. Suddenly, “his face shone like the sun; his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). And if that isn’t strange enough, Moses and Elijah show up too!
There is so much mystery here. We might read this story and wonder what is happening and what it all means. I would like to imagine this whole experience is about Jesus giving His friends the gift of seeing His truest self, radiant with the glory of the Father, shining like the sun. For these three disciples, the mountaintop is a liminal space where ordinary people can stand with one foot in heaven and the other on Earth. The mysteries Jesus has been teaching them about have become brilliantly clear here.
What would you do in the face of such glory? If you’re like Peter, you might fumble for something practical: “I will set up three shelters here: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (v.4). Maybe your response, like theirs, is to fall facedown, terrified. Both are normal human reactions in the presence of the incomprehensible.
And this is exactly where Jesus meets them. When the veil closes again, when the brilliance is gone, He is still there with a gentle touch and kind words. “Get up; don’t be afraid,” He says. “When they looked up they saw no one except Jesus alone” (vv.7–8).
Jesus, gloriously Himself. Human, but no less holy. Their Lord, but also their friend.