This week, Faith in Real Life discussed the Transfiguration as Mark’s gospel relates it. The scriptures of the past weeks, as we’ve journeyed through Epiphany, have shown the establishment of Jesus identity and authority as the son of God. To this point, the message has been observed, but not fully grasped, by the disciples. As Vernon describes in this week’s blog, it’s not until the crucifixion that the picture becomes clear, but the Transfiguration on the mountain top gives them a shock as they witness the connection between God and Jesus first-hand. “Listen to him!”

Mark 9:2-9
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

It is always important to see a particular story in the context of the larger story. This is not a stand alone passage. It fits into a larger narrative. We have been following the establishment of Jesus’s authority. At his baptism, God addresses Jesus with the words: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is a message to Jesus, and for Jesus’ ears. Then Jesus is driven into the wilderness to figure out his call.

Mark spends the first half of his gospel revealing Jesus’ mighty acts. Jesus becomes known as a rabbi and healer. He interprets scripture. He gathers his disciples and sends them out in his name, he heals the sick and casts out demons. He feeds the hungry. This is the kind of Savior you would expect.

But as his fame spread, Jesus began warning people NOT to tell of his healing power.

Mark 5:43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Jesus raised a young girl from the dead.)

Mark 7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. (Jesus gave hearing to a deaf man.)

Mark 8:26 Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” (Jesus gave sight to a blind man.)

Each of these outcomes would be considered answers to prayer. So why de-emphasize them by encouraging silence? Health and life were restored. This is what a God is supposed to do. Belief is supposed to improve our lives. Living is better than dying, hearing is better than deafness and sight is better than blindness. These things seem so obvious that it is hard to think any other way. But equating our definitions of what is ‘good’ with God is no different than the first century misconception that the Messiah mission was to end the oppression of Rome and restore Israel among the nations. We want what we want—and we want it on our terms. But that is not the way God works. Jesus wanted to interrupt the easy connection between our well being and God’s favor. God did not come to fix our lives on our terms.

Jesus tried to warn his disciples, but they repeatedly didn’t ‘get it’. (Mark 8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly.) The disciples were not listening. If you are going to have a savior, surely he would protect us from pain and hardship. Isn’t that what being saved means?

They could not imagine a salvation that included both health and brokenness. They could not imagine that wholeness included suffering, death and great grief as well as rejoicing and new life. As devoted as the disciples were, they had yet to realize who Jesus really was and they certainly did not understand the way he was the Messiah.

Which brings us to today’s passage, The Transfiguration. The disciples needed a jolt. They were following Jesus, but they did not grasp who he was nor where he was leading. The story is filled with images and allusions to Old Testament theophanies. It is literally a mountain top experience. Jesus becomes dazzlingly white (recall how Moses’ face shone so brightly he had to wear a veil after his mountaintop experience.) Moses and Elijah, pillars of the Jewish faith are in direct conversation with Jesus. He was a peer with the greats. And if that wasn’t enough, a voice from a dark cloud announces: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” This declaration was to and for the disciples. They needed to see Jesus as the Son of God and they needed to learn to listen.

The first step for the disciples was to realize that Jesus is the Christ. He is more than a spiritual man, more than an insightful Rabbi, more than a healer. He is the son of God. This is the unmistakable announcement of the transfiguration. And please notice that in the blink of an eye, when they looked around, there was only Jesus—the nondescript carpenter’s son. The epiphany was that both things were true—Jesus was God and man. There is no separation between the holy and the ordinary. And the command is to listen to him. Only when they fully grasped Jesus’ full authority could they follow him to places they could not imagine.

Though it is a natural expectation of a messiah. Jesus’ call to accept love and to be loving—did not mean relief from pain and suffering. In FIRL we spent a good bit of time trying to describe our own real life expectations of a Messiah. And it turns out the disciples’ dilemma is our dilemma. There was a great deal of sadness and despair as people described the pain and frustration of loving. Many had suffered as they watched people they loved die. These were not ‘gently into the good night’ deaths. These were slow protracted suffering deaths. Surely the Jesus on the mountain top could at least let death be gentle.

Another described being slowly overwhelmed by needs of the people around her. A neighbor had asked for help with her mail and her cats. But now the neighbor has become hospitalized. She has no family and no place to go. How can we not get involved? But more and more it is clear, there is no fixing this situation. There is no resolution. Helping in any way exposes us to what we can not do.

If we accept Jesus as Lord, we are called to a new reality. In real life, this is really hard. It is one thing to be called to love and service and quite another to live in the knowledge that we are always inadequate to the needs of those around us. Love’s work is never done. Tolerating our limitations is an act of faith. We must live in an uncertain present where we trust that what we do is additive—but almost never ‘enough’. We must love without knowing outcomes. We must love even when all we can see is insoluble. We must love in the middle of pain and suffering. That’s what coming down from the mountain top means—doing our limited best in the face of an uncertain future.

Having witnessed the glory of the Lord, we, as the disciples, must listen. Once again Jesus admonishes them not to tell. Do not tell of his might until you understand where he leads us. It will not be until Easter that any of this makes any sense. It will not be till Easter that we realize wholeness and unity with God include many things we do not like—-many things that are painful. And it is not until Easter that we see that such wholeness is Holy, is eternal and leads to new life. In the meantime, we enter Lent. We listen and we wait.

May the knowledge that Jesus is Lord allow us to listen to him—even as he walks toward death. Enter the season of Lent with a humble heart. Let it be so.