When Moses returned from the mountain with the tablets of the commandments, we are told that his face shone (the Douay Rheims reports that his face was horned). Moses did not even see the Lord face to face, but yet his body was changed, literally. Today, on the feast of the Transfiguration, we read the Peter, James, and John went up the mountain and Jesus was revealed in His natural form… he shone like the sun. Shining. Radiant. But Peter, James, and John were not changed like Moses. Why not?
Transfiguration of our Lord. Eight days after our Lord had foretold his passion and death to his Apostles, He took Peter, James, and John to Mount Thabor, where He was about to display the hidden glory concealed beneath his sacred humanity. These were ever the three chosen disciples who, both at this time and others, were favored by Him specially. Peter was the rock on which the Church of Christ was to be built James its first martyr among the Apostles John the virgin disciple and most beloved. When they had ascended to the summit of the mountain they beheld Jesus glorified. He was transfigured before them. His face shone as the sun; his garments appeared as white as snow; and Moses and Elias were seen talking with Him. Peter in a transport of joy at what he saw, exclaimed: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” As he was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them. And a voice out of the cloud was heard saying: ” This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him.” The three Apostles at the sound fell prostrate on their faces and remained trembling till Jesus came and with a gentle touch bade them rise and not fear. He then went down with them from the mountain, charging them strictly not to say a word of what they had seen till after the Resurrection.
(Boyle, J., The Child’s Bible History, 1884. C.J. Peters and Son. Boston. p 167)
I still love it that St. Peter got so excited he blurted that nonsense about building booths there. Hah! Is that the difference, though? Is it because the apostles had been baptized, and thus, they were able to withstand the glory of God’s face, when Moses was not able to do so? The troparion of the feast says that Jesus did not even reveal his full glory, but “as much as his disciples could withstand.” Even that caused them to fall in trembling. Moses wasn’t able to handle as much as the apostles did, and look at the great things God did through him!
TRIVIA: Why Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration? My trusty old catechism has the ready answer:
Moses and Elias were present at Our Lord’s transfiguration, because they alone of all the patriarchs had fasted forty days as He did. Hence we see that glory is reserved in a future life for those who fast in this world. In the Preface for Lent the Church sings : ” Who by a bodily fast restrainest vices, upliftest our minds, and grantest strength and rewards.”
Imagine what happens if you are baptized, be with Jesus in Holy Communion, and fast!!!
TRIVIA 2: One of the funniest lines in the Gospels is the scene when they are walking down the hill and Jesus tells them “You won’t see me like this again until I’ve risen from the dead”… It’s this line that comes next: “and they walked behind him discussing what it would mean to rise from the dead.” You can see Peter, James, and John trying to act cool but asking each other what that meant… hushing each other to be sure Jesus didn’t hear them … slapping each other to get their attention and whispering theories… all the while hanging back from Jesus… you have to wonder why they just didn’t ask Him because He was right there walking in front of them. Perhaps still a bit taken aback. a little while later and they’d know (!)