Don’t Speak Until You’re Spoken To*
As 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."
February 24, 2017, Words By: Kris Rocke, Image By: unknown
After the brightly lit meeting on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, where Jesus is transfigured, he orders the disciples not to say a word about this until after he is raised from the dead. What an odd command. Why are they free to speak after the resurrection but not before?
This week’s text calls to mind Moses’ meeting with God on the mountain. Remember that? Moses ascended the mountain to speak with God. He came down with the 10 Commandments. Upon his return all hell had broken loose. There was the “noise of war in the camp” (Ex. 32:17). Chaos had gripped the community and they had turned to the golden calf. “Moses’ anger burned hot” (Ex. 32:19). In a fit of rage he then speaks rashly. Violence escalated (as it always does). He orders the execution of more than 3,000 men in God’s name. A gory frenzy of fratricide ensued that was much worse than the original sin. Yikes!
In the wake of the violence Moses returned to the mountain to speak to God. He fully expected to meet a God whose anger burned hotter than his own. Instead, God spoke words never uttered before, I am a “God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Ex. 34:6-7). Who is this God? In my view, Moses was spoken to by the Crucified One whose heart, like the stone tablets Moses had dashed, lay broken before him.
In his book Deep Memory and Exuberant Hope, Walter Bruggemann argues that each major failure in the life of Israel (beginning with this Exodus crisis) calls forth “original speech” from God that Israel had never heard before. In each case we hear something completely unexpected — not the anger and wrath that mirrors the human heart, but the intensification of grace and mercy that originates in the heart of God. To be sure, there are troubling regressions in the language that are attributed to God, but there is no doubt about its direction. God’s ever-increasing lexicon of grace unfolds in Scripture until it finally culminates in Jesus. Perhaps we can only hear good news a little at a time.
So why does Jesus tell his disciples to remain quiet until they meet him in the resurrection? Here’s my guess. Until we hear from the Crucified One we, like Moses, are only half-converted to the love of God. Puffed up with vision of grandeur, the disciples descend into the chaos below. Very soon, their hearts will soon burn hot with anger, convinced their righteous indignation is from God. This mess will have them scaling another mountain. On that mountain, they will witness original speech from God that not even Moses or Elijah fully heard. They will hear the heart of the Crucified One say to his murderers, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Three days later in the upper room (think mountain) the heart of Jesus will speak again when he declares God’s “peace” yet again.
Next week we enter Lent. It is the annual journey into the resurrection by way of the cross. It can’t come soon enough. The “noise of war” is rising and golden calves abound. Bold speech is needed like never before, but like the disciples on their way to Calvary, we do well not to speak until spoken to by the Crucified One. Perhaps a Lenten vow of silence is in order.
I have a hunch that when the Crucified One whispers words of peace in our souls, it will be some very highly personalized version of what Jesus heard on the mountain of Transfiguration in this week’s text, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). Having internalized the original speech of God and our own belovedness, we are free to shout, sing and dance our own version of original speech in a hurting world.
*James Alison has a chapter with this same title in his book series called Jesus, The Forgiving Victim. I highly recommend it.