Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then 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.” While 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!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.We are closing up the season after the Feast of the Epiphany, a time when we hear and bear witness to stories about the person of Jesus being revealed to us as the Messiah. As Peter confesses in Matthew just before the reading above, Jesus is God's son, the Messiah, the "one coming into the world."
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.” Matthew 17:1-9
In times like these...in any time...when we talk about getting to know Jesus, we are usually trying to find ways to experience him as being more accessible. Jesus is that human manifestation of the divine, and thus perhaps a little closer to us. Truth is, most of the epiphanic moments we bear witness to in scripture to little to draw us close to Jesus' human vulnerabilities. In fact, most of them point to a person of superhuman nature. He is beyond remarkable. Even just standing there!
So, six days after Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah, and Jesus rebukes him for arguing about the kind of messiah Jesus will be, four men set out to climb a (the) nearby mountain. Apart from the crowd and up there, above it all, something happens.
Jesus is transfigured. His clothes and his face become like light, shining and cleaner than clean...perfect. Suddenly, they are not four, but six. Two other men are with them, one is
Do the math....mountain top. Moses. Elijah. Jesus, well....perfect.
This goes past epiphany, a sudden and bright/revelatory flash of knowledge or experience of reality. We are onto theophany...when God decides to show up during the epiphany!
Everything is confirmed, doubt is expelled. These young Jewish men, AND us, see confirmed about Jesus what we bore witness to in Israel's antiquity. Between Moses and Elijah is Jesus. The LAW and the PROPHETs are now enjoying the view together from the summit of this hill. It is both surreal and real.
Well and good, and I hope you have some goose bumps as you sit here reading and imagining this moment. I do, every time I close my eyes and let myself imagine being there like Peter, James and John. Honored to bear witness they, like we would be, are more then reluctant to move on or leave the moment behind. Let's stay here and dwell in this moment! Let's keep Jesus perfect and this heightened (literally and figuratively) perspective going!
But, it doesn't work that way. Why?
First, this is the middle part of the story, the very middle. It's time to turn our faces, following Jesus, toward Jerusalem and that suffering and dying he was talking about last week. It's also important to realize that while we do meet God on the mountain tops during theophanies, we get to know God more intimately in the daily epiphanies that we encounter in relationship to each other, to the poor and to all those we are called upon to serve and to love as God loves us.
So, as we fumble to hold on to that ephemeral confirmation of Jesus being, truly and revealed as ALL THAT AND MORE....what matters most here and now is not the perfect vision of HIM. Rather, what matters most is the intimate sight of him...here....with us.
Just Jesus is the one who takes us back down the mountain. Just Jesus is the one who will continue to teach, and heal and lead us to the City of Peace. Just Jesus will struggle with his fate, and will bear his cross to the place where he will be put to death. Just Jesus will lie in a tomb for three days....
...and just Jesus will be the one we greet on the other side of resurrection. He will be perfect in our eyes....not so much because he is revealed to us on a mountaintop, but because in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of a touch he will prove to us that even death can be transfigured by the pure love of God for all.
|A forensic anthropologists rendering of what Jesus probably looked like.|
A man, about 5ft 1in and 130 pounds.