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Downhill is not the Road I Want to Take

 Last Epiphany B: Transfiguration

11 Feb 2024

Mark 9:2-9


You read something over and over again and you think you know it, and in truth you may even have it memorized, but just as your children constantly surprise and amaze you, so does scripture.  I will never accept that there is only one way to “see” a text.

Today is no exception. I headed up the mountain with Jesus and his closest disciples.  What I had not seen was that in Mark, Jesus’ entire journey to this pointed to this, the revelation of Jesus as the heir to Moses and Elijah, true prophets of Israel, but more than that: Jesus is revealed as one with God, a manifestation of God.  Jesus is made manifest, the very meaning of epiphany, as the Beloved One of God.

It is the high point of Mark’s Gospel, both figuratively and literally!  Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing all these folks in the back country, and he has been climbing the ladder of success, becoming very well known and sought after by the people of Galilee.  He is also rising literally as he goes up the mountain to one of the highest points in the region.  When the Transfiguration takes place, the three disciples with Jesus (Peter, James, and John) were clearly out of their element, understanding something astounding was happening that was not a trick of the light, but one which must surely have bewildered and baffled them, for just before the climb Jesus had discussed what was to happen to him, his suffering and death and the necessity of those who chose to follow him to suffer as well.  Peter had deduced exactly who he was, but clearly did not understand what it meant for himself and anyone who chose to be a follower.  It remained a paradox to him.

And now truly prayer changed everything, for as they are praying, he and his garments are transfigured to an unworldly shade of white and they hear a voice saying Jesus is the Beloved of of the father.  He is my Son. He is the one in charge.  We need to be quite clear about that!  How would you be feeling later, as you watched Jesus arrested, tried, and sentenced to death by crucifixion?  Would you still be able to remember this high point?   I had a vision of someone who is a rising political star, with people cheering in adoration, only to have that person cut down and the crowds in shock and fear.  Adoration and adulation can quickly become despair.  People could not reconcile what Jesus had been teaching and doing for them with the cross. Peter, James, and John did not understand how the Transfiguration could become the Crucifixion.  Then the resurrection changed it all for them.

John the Baptizer had taken the prophetic role of Elijah, preparing the way, and Jesus became the new Moses, ascending the mountain where he became the one to lead his people, all people, and save them from one another. Time stood still, earth and heaven became one for a brief time.  It may be a vision of what it will be like when the Reign of God is fully realized.

Here is the big question of the day: why did Jesus, as they started down the mountain, tell his disciples not to say anything about what had happened?  A good politician or a slick evangelist would certainly have made the most of such an experience. They would have “witnessed” to what happened and used it for all it was worth.  Jesus, though, was not like that. Right? If he was, the Transfiguration would have been the mother of all proofs that he was the son of God.  Have you asked yourself why he kept it a big secret?  Maybe it was because the Reign of God was not at all like the reign of Ceasar or even the Kings of Israel.  It was not to be a kingdom like those that existed and to promote the transfiguration would have effectively buried the kingdom before it was even born. Once you buy into the image of the transfiguration as the penultimate vision of who God is, you lose everything God intended.  

No, Jesus says, what I am about and what my future holds, is to create a reign like none that has ever existed on earth. It is the one that God intended from the very beginning. It is one where God identifies with humanity, where God becomes one with the lowest because in God’s eyes, they are the greatest and salvation is to be had for all people. It is not the world created by Jerry Falwell or Joel Osteen any more than it is the world created by the historical institutional churches of the Europe and Asia minor, or for that matter the institutional churches of today. 

We understand, or at least I hope we understand, what the disciples could not fathom that day as they walked down the mountain. Why must Jesus die and what did he mean when he said he must come back to life from the dead?  I am sure I would have been as flummoxed as they were!  It is so much easier to picture Jesus as riding in on a warhorse with sword and flames to wipe out everyone who has … ?  Has what?  It is easy to fill in the blank with our own ideas about who God is going to “get” when the time comes.  It is people who are not like us.

God has other ideas.  Jesus knows at this point his destiny is to die so that death may be overcome, and the world filled with light. He also knows that the world will not understand this, for we really don’t want to see that God believes in a radical equality of people and that, as St. Francis would so aptly demonstrate in his life, that all creation matters.

If the season of Epiphany is the season of revealing, then I pray that much has been revealed to each of you, most of all that you are, each and every one, a beloved child of God.

As we start our Lenten journey this week, think and reflect upon God’s love, which encompasses all of us, our friends, and even our enemies.


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