A Reflection on Mark 9:2-9
The Gospel for 15 February
The Last Sunday after Epiphany
by David Somerville+
I believe that this Gospel reading about the Transfiguration of Jesus should lead us to Our transfiguration. Ours begins when we go from laughing at Peter and his low vision to seeing ourselves in his humanity reflected back to us. That is humbling, but humbling experiences force us to grow.
Lutheran pastor, Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,* loves to tell the story of the country doctor and his patient who complained of an odd malady.
“I just don’t get it, Doc.”, the patient said. “I love coffee, but every time I pour, add sugar, and take a sip, I get this pain in my eye.”
When Peter beheld the transfigured Christ, he had his own kind of vision trouble, but, like all of us on occasion, he had difficulty with really seeing what he was looking at. It appears that Peter felt required to understand the vision, and then do something with it immediately. That was his difficulty. Doing something comes later – if at all. What we have to do when we encounter a sudden flash of insight is nothing. Just accept its presence. But Peter wanted to preserve its moment of gloriousness.
We know from the Gospel lesson that Peter climbed an outward, literal mountain with his companions as Jesus led them. But could it be that Peter had not actually arrived at the summit of the more important mountain, the one of his thickheaded unconsciousness? How like Peter are we? As I see it, we would do well to exercise our characters by climbing the mountains of our unconsciousness, which is to expand our conscious awareness of our deeper selves in a quest to receive the gift of spiritual maturity. But how do we succeed in doing that?
In life, I believe, we are called by the challenges of many mountains. Today’s mountain is the one of the Transfiguration. It is the one that leads us from seeing Jesus as a personal friend to something larger. He is lord of all creation, and he expects each of us to join others in his mission — to bring about a new world of pace and justice, namely the Kingdom of God. Although made of the same physical stuff, we will see the creation differently as it becomes the Kingdom. With a new attitude, we too will be transfigured.
I believe Jesus is calling us to lead others to see everything in this whole new way. In this change, our personal relationship to him is not lost, but magnified with implications for what is meant by our discipleship. What is truly meant may have escaped our notice the first time we looked at it – especially if, like Peter, we felt we had to do something with the vision’s insight right away. We need to take time to let it all sink in. When we do that, our mission becomes clarified, and we see the end purposes of God. When we see things through that new perspective, they are transfigured. We glimpse for a moment as if looking through the creator’s eye. With that we are blessed with a view of where the author of our story is taking us. God gives us a new consciousness, which lifts us out of the silo of resistance and self-centeredness.
I am reminded here of Saint Paul who spoke of his outgrowing “childish ways”. Using a fragment of a schmaltzy old hymn, I declare that Christ is calling us to embrace him as much more than to be the hero of a lonely child’s dream, that undemanding friend who “walks with me and … talks with me and … tells me that I am his own.”
So then, the Transfiguration throws light on how we are called as witnesses to live with a larger, mountaintop perspective over life. The perspective begins with our rising to two challenges. The first is the easy one — to see the laughable foolishness of Peter’s mundane reaction to the divine– which led Peter to miss the point of the epiphany that changed his familiar way of seeing Jesus, the gifted, country rabbi and local leader. So he proposes his booth-building project! What Peter should have done was to take off his shoes and prostrate himself in humble contemplation because, frankly, sometimes the best we have to offer God is the purity of our silence. Does that sound strange? Yes, but it makes more sense than building booths!
Peter lacked the faith to remain still, and “get” the idea that the nothing of silent adoration is better than anything engineered. So he got busy busy busy, building booths to containerize the Incarnation of God! Peter was buffaloed by his need to control the One who is the source of the law and the prophets. So by “taking charge”, and setting up a work detail, he attempted to manage his anxiety. Peter was still at the bottom of the mountain of his own unconsciousness.
Here is our second challenge, the harder one. Can we see any parallels between Peter’s foolishness, and our own vanity in his booth-building proposition? After all, what is this booth-building anyway? It is busy work not to accomplish anything beneficial, but instead, to dodge an encounter with the holiness of God — where Peter’s ego (which he loved too much) could be dissolved! Human nature with its threatened ego wants to distance itself from that which is disturbing — like the profound holiness that caused both Peter to offer his booth proposition, and Isaiah, centuries earlier, to moan, “ I am a man of unclean lips”.
In our spiritual growth, we will join with Peter in trusting that God in Christ is our mediator, not one to be controlled and containerized. In this growth we are given the holy confidence we must have to accept our intimacy with God without fear. God in Christ allows the mature believer to discover that he or she is in a mediating priesthood of faith for the sake of others. In our faith, the “fear” of God becomes an appreciation of the ineffable without giving into the need to make God into another object, to be put into a convenient booth, like a bottled genie.
There is an irony here: As we grow in our progress upward to the summit of awareness, we see what the Christ really is. We recognize how like Peter we are. His impetuousness is ours along with his vanity, workaholism, and impulse control issues. And as we make the confession of how Peter’s fallen human nature is so much like ours, we begin to become unlike Peter! In Our transfiguration, we see ourselves as Peter eventually would in his career after Pentecost. We stand with Peter as the cloud engulfs him, but for us the cloud becomes more transparent. We hear the words, and we can understand them – Yes! This is indeed the Son of God, and we do listen to him! We are beginning to “get” it as Peter is being told to scrap his booth-building project.
The news is good! As I reflect on the story of the transfiguration, I realize that both the original recorder of the story, his hearers, and we who are the posterity of that early church, have inherited the mountain perspective. We understand how we learned by watching Peter with his booths on the mountaintop getting himself so busy, that he burrowed himself into the mountain’s foot; he wound up with the perspective of a mole in the ground!
Now here is the final surprise: If it was not Peter who visited the country doctor, it was somebody very much like him at the time when he finally “got” it.
“I dunno, Doc. For some reason I cannot enjoy my coffee. Every time I go to take a sip, I get a pain in my eye. Is there something you could do for me?”
“No”, said the doctor. “It’s a matter of your doing something for yourself. Look for a moment at the table, and the saucer under the cup. Good, Now smell the coffee.
“How do you feel?” the Doctor asked.
“Much better,” said the patient.
“Oh silly me!” I can see that I have been leaving the spoon in my cup!”
Note to the reader: I use two excellent sources without which, I could not do this series with some accurate sources of information:
- *Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Transfiguration, Year B, Sermon Central, 2003
- SermonWriter – Resources for Lectionary Preaching http://www.sermonwriter.com/
2 Oxford Biblical Studies http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/