The vast majority of life is what can be referred to as “ordinary stuff.” Certainly, we have our up moments: mountaintop experiences, if you will; and there are the down times: dwelling in the valley. Most of the time we’re somewhere in-between, but either extreme can appear suddenly, unexpectedly, and we can be left at a loss to try to make sense of it all.
Perhaps something like that is what happened to Peter, James, and John when Jesus took them up a mountainside:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. –Mark 9:2-9 NRSV
If ever there’s a mountaintop experience in the Bible, this one surely qualifies. Not surprisingly, the two heavenly figures they meet are Elijah, who avoided physical death by being transported directly to heaven, and Moses, no stranger to mountaintop experiences with God, either.
It’s a rather curious story to many folks, almost out of place in Mark’s ongoing story of Jesus, who had been busy teaching, healing, and performing miracles throughout Galilee and Judea. Suddenly (and that word comes up over and over in Mark’s Gospel) we have a vision of who Jesus really is as a voice from heaven intones: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Near the conclusion of this strange and incredible event Peter starts talking. Well, he was like that. But James and John are silent, and most likely they were simply dumbfounded by what had just happened. How does anybody respond when suddenly they’re thrust into the presence of divinity?
Yes, this is big. It’s important. It’s Jesus put within a cosmic context. And yet that’s something that many of us Christians are unaccustomed to, perhaps rather uneasy about. Let’s face it: If Jesus is tucked away comfortably “in our hearts,” when he’s nothing more than a personal savior to each and every person, Jesus isn’t as much a threat to our comfort zone or daily life as when he becomes the cosmic Christ, the savior of the world, the One sent by God to change the course of human history. That can be pretty dangerous stuff. And stuff can spin out of control rather quickly.
Take a close look at that last part of what the “Voice” has to say: Listen to him!
And what is it that Jesus tells the three disciples on the way down the mountain: “…he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Jesus would not lead the kind of triumphant victory march many Jews expected from the long-promised messiah but instead he would die and then be resurrected.
Whoa…they were not expecting that.
This is a constant problem for disciples of Jesus: when we’re least expecting it the heavens open to a new vision, a new reality, a new future calling us into it as servant ministers. And it can become much harder to just show up in church on a Sunday morning, sit comfortably in a pew or chair, and let that be what embodies our religious life.
As we prepare to once again enter the season of Lent, Listen to him….
My latest book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is available from Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions