Now, have you ever noticed how the three apostles (Peter, James and John) are always falling asleep on Jesus at critical moments in his journey to the cross? In today’s gospel (Luke 9:28-36) Jesus reveals his divinity during the Transfiguration, surely a “mountaintop experience” to top them all! But “Peter and his companions had been heavy with sleep” Later on in another crucial moment near the end of Jesus’ journey at the Garden of Gethsemane, despite Jesus’ request to “keep awake,” Peter, James and John fall asleep during his hour of need (Mark 14:33-34, 37) . During the Transfiguration when his glory was manifested, the three apostles woke up and heard a voice, “This is my Son, the chosen one; listen to him!” Before they realised it, the “mountaintop experience” was over.
In both cases, Jesus was engaged in deep prayer. In both cases, the apostles could not stay awake in prayerful support. But once they realised what was happening at the Transfiguration, they wanted to stay there and continue the experience. St. Augustine taught us that instead Jesus took them back down the mountain, and showed them how to serve even through persecution – the Way to heaven lies through the Way of the Cross.
I think we need to remember the stark contrast between last week’s gospel and today’s. In the story of the “Temptations” last week, we were reminded of the full humanity of Jesus. In the story of the “Transfiguration” today, we are reminded of the full divinity of Jesus. The latter reminds us of our promised eternal destiny when we respond to Jesus’ message of love. The former reminds us that this destiny doesn’t mean we can avoid the trials and pains of life.
In both the Transfiguration and the Gethsemane experiences, it is clear that the events are pointing to the Cross ahead, the way of suffering. So it is possible that we “miss” the mountaintop experiences because we are not open to accepting the way of the cross that might be in our present or future. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in heaven, “Not my will but thine be done.” Is this really our prayer?