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A relationship with God means serving

When he does or says something important,  Jesus goes up onto a mountain. The mountain in the bible is a site of encounter with God. It was on the mountain that Moses had an encounter with God and received the revelation that later was passed on to the people. 

When Moses received the law, the mountain was enveloped by a cloud (Exodus 24:15-16). He  came down with his face shining  (Exodus 39:29-35). So being enveloped in cloud and having a shining face are  a reflection of God’s presence.

By creating a similar setting, the evangelist intends to present Jesus as the new Moses, as the one who delivers the new law to the new people, represented by the three disciples. Jesus is the definitive revelation of God.

Using these images, Matthew says that Peter, James and John, in a particularly significant moment of their lives, have been introduced to the world of God and  enjoyed an enlightenment that made them understand the true identity of the Master and the destination of his journey: he would not be the glorious Messiah they expected, but a Messiah who, after a severe conflict with the religious powers-that-be would be opposed, persecuted and killed.

They also realised that their fate would be no different from that of the Master.

The voice from heaven revealing  Jesus is the beloved, the faithful servant of whom God is well pleased (Isaiah 42:1), had  already been heard at his baptism by John.

Now an exhortation is added: “Listen to him.” Listen to him, even when he seems to propose too demanding a path, to indicate the narrow and steep ways, paradoxical and humanly absurd choices.

In the bible, the word to listen does not just mean to hear, but is often the equivalent of to obey (Exodus  6:12, Matthew 18:15-16). 

The recommendation that the Father gives to Peter, James and John, and through them to all the disciples, is to put into practice that which Jesus teaches. It is the invitation to focus your life on the proposals of the beatitude.

Who are Moses and Elijah? The first is the one who gave the law to his people; the other was considered the first of the prophets. For the Israelites, these two characters represented the scriptures.

All the holy books of Israel are meant to lead to a dialogue with Jesus; they are oriented towards him. Without him, the Old Testament is incomprehensible.

On the way to Emmaus, Jesus  resorted to the Old Testament: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them everything in the scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

The meaning of the image of the three tents is not easy to determine. Sure they refer to the desire of Peter to stop, to perpetuate the joy experienced in a moment of spiritual intimacy with the Master. 

Our own spiritual experience can help us to understand. After having spoken for a long time with God, we are not willing to go back to everyday life: the problems, social conflicts and family disagreements, the dramas that we must confront frighten us. 

Yet we know that listening to the word of God is not everything. We cannot spend our lives in the church or in an oasis of spiritual retreats.

It is necessary to go out to meet and serve our brothers and sisters, to help those who suffer, to be close to anyone in need of love.


Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications