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 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 9:2-4, 7-9
There is nothing quite so dangerous as trying to occupy the place of resurrection glory prematurely or falsely.
Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples not to mention his identity too soon. Theologians often refer to this as the “messianic secret.” After Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah in Mark 8, Jesus tells Peter and the disciples not to say anything to anyone. And in this week’s lectionary text, Jesus strictly warns Peter, James and John not to say anything about the extraordinary mountaintop event until after the resurrection (Mark 9:9). What a strange remark!
Why is it okay to speak of Jesus’s glory after the resurrection and not before? What will they see after the resurrection that they cannot see before?
One thing we know for certain is that when Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain, Jesus had not yet been crucified. Had the disciples become evangelists on the basis of their limited vision on the mountaintop, they would have run the risk of proclaiming a false gospel in the valley. And so Jesus tells his disciples not to speak until after they have witnessed the resurrection. Jesus asks them to wait, like Job, until they have seen for themselves (Job 42:5) what it means to pass through death and come out safe on the other side. He tells them not to speak until after they have seen in Jesus’ resurrected body the very marks of death that he triumphs over. Then and only then will they have the authority to speak, not before. Then and only then, will they see things as they really are – most especially, death itself.
We have a hunch that one of the primary reasons there is so little transformative authority in the Church today is because there is so little transformative vision. So much of what passes for authoritative speech is not wrong, as much as it is formed prematurely in a kind of blindness devoid of the paschal mystery of death as a gateway to life.
Jesus implores his disciples to wait. Could there be times when we too must wait – to not speak prematurely of good news – until we are able to discern a circumstance in light of its passage through death?
Adapted from Geography of Grace: Doing Theology from Below, by Kris Rocke and Joel Van Dyke (Street Psalms Press, 2012), chapter 18.
Photo: JESUS MAFA