During this special Year of the Word: The God Who Speaks, we are going to have a regular series of reflections published on our website which will prompt us to reflect on important passages of St Matthew’s Gospel, and learn more about them. We are very grateful to Dr Natalie Watson, a contemporary theologian and writer, for offering these reflections for our community.
Mountains play a central role in Matthew’s Gospel and indeed in the Bible as a whole. They are places of encounter with God, places where holy men and women go to seek the presence of God and to hear God speak. In this passage, Jesus and three of his disciples, among them Peter, go into the mountains to pray, but nothing could have prepared the disciples for the experience they were about to have: Jesus ‘was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white’. They see Jesus as they have never seen him before – in the glory of the Father. The God who speaks to them now is the God who spoke to his people through Moses and Elijah. Peter wants to hold on to Moses and Elijah, build booths for them and for Jesus, but what the disciples are seeing is greater than anything any human being has seen before. They encounter God himself, and they hear the same words again that were hear at Jesus’s baptism: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ At first, they are overcome by fear, but they hear Jesus say: ‘Do not be afraid.’, as God had spoken to his people Israel. And it is in these words that they recognise him: ‘Do not be afraid’. Because God is with us, we too do not need to be afraid. The passage ends by telling us that the disciples saw nothing but Jesus alone. This is Matthew’s purpose in writing his Gospel: for us to hear God speak through his word and to see Jesus alone. And when we do, we too can respond by worshipping him.
God, because you are with us, we do not need to be afraid. Help us to see nothing but you alone.