Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
I have used the motif of “the journey” so far in this season of epiphany as a metaphor for our following of Jesus in his literal journey to Jerusalem. We have discussed where Jesus’ journey, and our following of it as would-be disciples will take us: mountain, cross, empty tomb. Within that journey/story, I have noted several important events that take place on mountains. If you remember most recently, we saw that the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount took place on a “mount.”
This week we approach another mountain – the mountain of transfiguration. It’s been an intense period of time for the first disciples. They have seen so much. They have heard so much. These early disciples were really still trying to figure out exactly who Jesus was as Messiah. Right before this passage, Peter declares that Jesus is indeed the long awaited Messiah (16:16). But as we see he struggles to understand what that means. Six days later we are told they hike to the top of a mountain where Jesus is transfigured, meaning that his face “shone like the sun” and “his clothes appeared dazzling white.” I don’t want to get sidetracked on the “science” of what this means so I’ll simply say that this is a reference Exodus 34:29 and Daniel 7:9 where Moses’ face also shone like the sun and where dazzling white clothes was a sign the Messianic age had arrived. We also see the presence of the prophets Moses and Elijah who appear with Jesus and have a chat (talk about wanting to be a fly on the wall). Peter then asks a mysterious question, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter thinks this is the coming of the messianic age – the end of time as we know it – THE END. Part of this is because of the scriptures I mentioned earlier. Mostly though, Peter is confused about exactly what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. Peter thinks it is enough that Jesus has come and taught great new truths, healed lots of people, and put power-brokers in their place. He does not realize that in order to truly save the world and all of those in it, Jesus cannot stay on the mountain. He has to come down. He has to go to Jerusalem. He has to die. He has to resurrect.
We, as Jesus’ disciples, cannot stay on the mountain either. Our journey continues down the mountain and through the valley of the season we call Lent and to what ultimately awaits the One whom we follow on another mountain. We approach a very sacred season in The Church where we reflect on our lives in relation to the Messiah who left his dwelling place more than once so that he could die and we have life.
Blessings on the journey,