Jesus took Peter, 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 fuller on earth could bleach them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.
The Gospel according to St. Mark 9
Have you noticed that climbing mountains seem to be a thing for the LORD? In today’s reading the disciples climb Mt. Tabor and suddenly some other mountain climbers appear in holy companionship with the LORD Jesus. Those mountain climbers of the Old Testament had indeed experienced what Peter, James and John were experiencing–a moment of shut-my-mouth-wide-opened stupefaction at what appeared before their eyes. The disciples saw the metamorphose of their Rabbi and they were terrified, yet enticed to keep their eyes opened. I imagine Jesus whispering to Peter, James and John before they parted from the other disciples, “Come away with me.” I kindle to the idea that Jesus draws his disciples: up mountains, into deserts, through rivers, across lakes and to places of solitude. Places where his divinity touched the ground of their humanity–transformation indeed!
Enter Moses and Elijah, great heroes of the Old Covenant. Their climbing lessons were similar to what Jesus had in mind for the three disciples that day. When Moses climbed Horeb [Sinai] and Elijah climbed Carmel and Horeb, an immense transfiguration happened before them and within them: the LORD God transforming a burning bush in order to arrest the attention of Moses, a cloud shrouding Moses as the LORD’s finger wrote his Law on a stone tablet (where did he get that?) Elijah shattered the cult of Baal-worship on Mt. Carmel through a cloud the size of a man’s hand bearing the rain that no graven image could conjure. Elijah’s fear sent him running away and into the shade of a broom tree where the angels of God ministered to him , then on to Mt. Horeb after that rest when he was under an edict of death by the powers at be. Through the whisper of a gentle breeze he reveals himself to the battered prophet….and he asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”
In today’s gospel the show and tell lesson of Jesus’ Transfiguration doesn’t ask any questions of the disciples, rather it reveals the answer for the unspoken questions about Jesus’ divinity. In hindsight we understand they needed this glimpse of eternity and the real purpose of life, for they would soon find themselves alternately hiding away in fear and boldly conveying the truth of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection Their own transfiguration into God’s desire for them would eventually end in their martyrdom, but I imagine they welcomed that because of what they had seen and heard on Mt. Tabor that day.
They heard the LORD’s answer about the purpose of life from within a cloud that shadowed them. The answer was simple enough for them to understand, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Just like Moses and Elijah, the disciples had challenges with listening to the LORD. We have the same hearing problem some times, don’t we? The LORD is always speaking, he waits for those who will listen!
The LORD longs for us to see him as well. Are you like me, suffering from nearsightedness? Distracted by fear or pride when all around me there is the stunning revelation of God. He is always showing himself to those who look for him, to those who will behold him! The mystery of transfiguration is revealed in us when we learn to listen to the LORD’s voice, to respond in obedience, to see that every moment is suffused with the divine waiting to touch the ground of our humanity? It is in that overshadowing of the LORD’s grace that turns the here and now into the holy ground of our transformation into God’s likeness?
LORD, you tell us that we become what we behold. Help us to contemplate your love for us, free us of our fears and pride so that we may be transformed into your likeness. Remind us that life is not the ground we stand on in our corner of the world! Life begins and ends in you! Reveal to us in the meantime the shut-my-mouth-wide-opened wonder of the good life you have for those who choose to follow you. “It is good that we are here.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.