Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ disciples, who witnessed firsthand his Transfiguration. Jesus had said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men,” and they left their nets, boats, and family to follow him. They listened to the Sermon on the Mount, watched him teach astonished crowds, and saw many healings and miracles. They followed him, as he “went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness” (Matthew 9:35). It must have seemed at that point that their decision to leave everything and accompany Jesus was a good one.
Then the narrative shifts. Jesus sends them out to preach that the “kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 10:7), but at the same time warns them about coming persecutions and the need to be courageous because he will be a cause of division. They will need to take up their crosses and lose their own lives for his sake.
Then he squares off with the Pharisees, who question his every move. They demand a sign from him to justify his authority. He speaks in parables because “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven . . . has not been granted” to an evil generation (Matthew 13:11). He was rejected by the people in his hometown, who “took offense at him” (Matthew 13:57). He then predicts his own passion and death, and reminds the disciples that they must pick up their crosses and follow the same path. “Whoever wishes to come after me,” he said, “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). I wonder how many of the apostles, at that point, reconsidered the wisdom of their decision to follow Jesus.
After the Transfiguration, there would be more trouble. Jesus would predict his own passion and death two more times. More persecution would lie ahead. His authority would be questioned in Jerusalem. He would be tested by the Sadducees, and the Pharisees would plot against him. He would lament over the impending destruction of Jerusalem and face off against the Pharisees once again. Finally, one of his own would betray him, leading to his crucifixion and death.
The Transfiguration, which occurs roughly halfway through Matthew’s gospel, would be a kind of intermission for the disciples. It was intended to encourage them, like a coach who encourages his team during the halftime of a game. According to CSU coach, Gary Curneen, “the half-time team talk in a game can be the most vital 15 minutes for a coach on game day.” It is an opportunity to motivate, encourage, and make necessary adjustments for the second half.
Jesus came over to his cowering disciples, touched them, and said, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” This was Jesus’ halftime speech. This is what gave them courage to continue into the second-half of Jesus’ ministry. Whatever difficulties you face, crosses you are forced to carry, or deaths you must suffer, remember this message from our Lord. For no matter what fearsome roads lie ahead, it is the Lord who accompanies you, who drops everything to follow you. So, “rise, and do not be afraid.”
Father Roger Gustafson