Especially, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tries to keep His identity a secret. He silences the devils when they say He is the Son of God. He cautions those whom He heals not to disclose the healing. Even at the close of today’s Gospel (Mark 9:2-10), we are told “He strictly enjoined them not to tell anyone what they had seen before the dead (Mk 9:9).
Given this background, we can only be surprised when Jesus suddenly manifests His glory to three disciples: “He was transfigured before their eyes and His clothes became dazzling white” (Mk 9:2-3). Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, speak with Him. The Father identifies Him as His Son, “This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him” (Mk 9:7).
Why this abrupt change? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Transfiguration took place for the encouragement of the disciples. Jesus had already predicted His future suffering and the sufferings of His disciples. They needed encouragement to endure His sufferings as well as their own sufferings as His followers.
For a person to arrive most directly at a destination, he or she needs to know the end, as Thomas Aquinas notes: “An archer will not shoot the arrow straight unless he first sees the target” (3a. 45, 1). The Apostle Thomas raises the problem to Jesus, “We do not know where You are going, how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5).
Thomas adds: “Above all is this [knowledge of the destination] necessary when hard and rough is the road, heavy the going, but delightful the end” (3a. 45, 1). The road was going to be hard and rough.
Jesus believed that He must suffer. This is the reason why He hid His identity through the time of His ministry, lest premature glory should smother God’s plan. In Mark’s Gospel, the first human to acknowledge Jesus’ divinity is the centurion standing at the Cross when Jesus died: “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Mk 15:39). After the Resurrection, Jesus explained, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:26).
The disciples needed encouragement because they also would undergo sufferings and needed to know that they also would share in Jesus’ glory. Thomas speaks of “the glory Jesus brings those who follow the footsteps of His Passion” (3a. 45, 1). Paul and Barnabas urge the Christians to persevere in their faith, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
The Father addresses Jesus as “My beloved Son.” Thomas comments that the Father’s proclamation that Jesus is “My beloved Son” is “to be understood of God’s eternal speaking, by which God the Father uttered the only-begotten and co-eternal Word” (3a. 45. 4, ad 1). In other words, the Father has always been and is always uttering His Word, His beloved Son.
The Father’s identification of Jesus as His Son makes clear that Jesus’ sufferings demonstrate in a most strong way the love that God has for us, as the Letter to the Romans asserts: “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all …” (Rom 8:32).
Thomas Aquinas reflects: “God the Father gave Him up to death by appointing Him to become incarnate and suffer, and by inspiring His human will with such love that He would willingly undergo the passion. Hence He is said to have given Himself over, ‘He gave Himself up for us’” (Eph 5:2) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Romans, 714).
Thomas affirms that Jesus’ transfiguration affects us: “In baptism, we acquire grace, while the clarity of glory to come was foreshadowed in the transfiguration. Therefore both in His baptism and in His transfiguration, the natural sonship of Christ was fittingly made known by the testimony of the Father: because He alone with the Son and Holy Spirit is perfectly conscious of that perfect generation” (3a. 45, 4).
Thomas observes: “Therefore it is fitting that He should show His disciples His transfigured body, to which He will transfigure these who are His” (3a. 45, 1).
Paul affirms, “He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body…” (Phil 3:21). Thomas reflects that the holy ones will shine from Christ’s glory similar to the way that snow reflects the sun (3a. 45, 2, ad 3). Just as, after it has snowed, the sun shines and its brightness is reflected by the snow, so we will reflect Christ.
As disciples of Jesus, we also have our trials. Presently, some Christians are undergoing great persecutions. While our sufferings may not be as intense as theirs, our following of Christ and service to others bring us difficulties.
In Jesus, we are adopted as God’s children in the image of Jesus. We are on our way, slowly becoming conformed to the image of Christ. Thomas recalls the words of the First Letter of John: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2).
St. Thomas comments: “The adoption of children of God is through a certain conformity of image to the natural Son of God. This takes place in two ways: first, by the grace of the one in this life, which is imperfect conformity; second, by glory, which is perfect conformity” (3a. 45, 4).
Especially as we draw closer to Holy Week, we can see the love that the Father has for us. Paul tells us: “He did not even spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. Has He not also, with Him, given us all things” (Romans 8:32).
The Letter to the Colossians declares: “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Thomas reflects: When He was given up for us, all things were given to us” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Romans, 714). Thomas affirms that this includes, especially “the highest things, namely the three divine persons to enjoy.” Through Jesus’ self-offering, we have intimacy with the Three Persons.
Paul asks, “Who is he who will condemn? Christ Jesus who died: who is risen also again, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom 8:34).
Thomas reflects: “Someone might fear that a person might be accused by Jesus Christ as a violator of Christ’s commandments in the same way as the Lord says of Moses: ‘it is Moses who accuses you…’ (Jn 5:45).” Thomas responds:
“Christ is said to intercede for us in two ways. In one way by praying for us, as it is said in John: ‘I do not pray for these only, but for all those who will believe in Me through their word’ (Jn 17:20). But now His intercession for us is His will that we be saved: ‘Father, I desire that they also may be with Me where I am’ (Jn 1:24). In another way He intercedes by presenting to His Father’s gaze the human nature assumed for us and the mysteries celebrated in it: ‘He entered heaven itself to appear in the presence of God on our behalf’ (Heb 9:24)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Romans, 720).
In the image of the Son, we too are being formed as the sons and daughters of the Father, even in our difficulties and challenges.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas is divided into four parts, each of is further divided into questions and then into articles. References to the Summa give the particular part, the question and the article. In this instance, the reference is to the Third Part, the forty-fifth question and the first article. If Thomas is replying to an objection that he raised in the beginning of the article, the reference will add the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” and the number of the objection.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Romans are taken from the translation begun by Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. and edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012, pp. 236-240.