In the text for this week, Jesus drags his best and brightest to the top of the mountain until they see him in all his transcendent glory. I’ve read this story so many times, yet I’m still struck by how many Biblical themes are packed into it.
“This is my son, in whom I am well pleased,” references the baptism of Jesus. “Don’t tell anyone” is from Peter’s confession one chapter earlier, and is a key theme throughout the Gospel of Mark. “Don’t be afraid,” or, “Fear not,” are used throughout scripture. The command to “Listen” harkens back to the ten commandments of Moses. So many important themes are packed into one revealing walk up the mountain.
But what I find most interesting in the reading for today, as we sit in the dark season of lent, is the fragmented psychological splitting of the disciples. It’s probably because I like them a lot. But maybe we can learn something from the Jesus followers’ emotional roller coaster.
On the mountaintop, Jesus’ face shines like the sun. His clothes become “white as light” as he’s joined by the Old Testament hall of fame who come to vouch for him. But the disciples don’t respond apprehensively at all. Instead, they offer to make three shelters and a tabernacle for each of the glowing figures! They had no fear of the light-bright Jesus and his two ghost companions. In fact, they didn’t want to leave.
But the situation changes quickly. Just a verse later, a bright cloud covers the entire crew. And a voice speaks from behind the veil, reminding everyone of the first blessing bestowed at baptism, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.” And it comes with an added twist, “Listen to him.” This command is more than just a mandate, it’s an invitation to follow Jesus into the Passion, the heart of God’s incarnational mission.
And you can see how they react. The disciples weren’t alarmed by the glowing Jesus with fluorescent clothes, but are now face down in fear. They are more terrified by their inclusion in the transfiguration process than when they meet Jesus after he was literally raised from the dead.
I wonder why the glory of Jesus doesn’t scare them in the initial verses, but God’s words of blessing and invitation to listen have them face down on the ground?
I have a friend who claims we often have a moment with Jesus, and then we quickly make that moment into a monument. We try to stay right there. Who wouldn’t?
But the disciples are told they can’t stay there. And maybe that’s what scares them most about God’s words of blessing and invitation. They are called to listen, to follow, all the way down the mountain, through the valley and into the death and darkness that is to come. The spiritual journey, the listening, only begins on the mountaintop. But when you try to keep it there, when your spirituality is only built on mountaintop experiences that are removed from everyday life and the world, you miss out on the messy incarnational glory of God’s work. Instead, you end up creating false binaries that separate the physical from the spiritual, death from life and incarnation from resurrection.
God’s glory is the divinity of seeing and proclaiming the Passion and the resurrection, even in the darkest of places. The way of Jesus journeys into the desert and sees bread where others see rocks. The divine glory sees the imago dei in a demon possessed boy that others have marginalized. This is the glory of Jesus that is offered to the disciples, and of course, like us, they want to stay on the mountaintop, where the spirituality is easy and clear. But that’s not the invitation they, or we, are given.
You are a child of the Creator. God loves you, and is well pleased with you. Hear the blessing. Let go of your fear. Listen to Jesus and follow him into the lowest places where life can get really messy, reminding everyone these words of blessing are for all of us.