Today's Lectionary Text
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
If I’m being honest, I’ve always found this story, Jesus’ transfiguration, quite vexing. I’ve read it a thousand times. I’ve heard sermons and college lectures on it. And yet, every time I encounter this story, I’ve been left with the same, tortured question: “What does it mean?”
It seems like a story that should be important. After all, it takes place on a mountain. Jesus’ face gets all shiny. Moses, Elijah and the voice of God are all present. We’ve given it a fancy name using a word that nobody ever uses in any other context! It all seems very important. But again, what does it mean?
On this particular reading of the story, a new issue emerged: This is a story of Jesus getting a formal endorsement from God and two of the most important figures from the Hebrew Bible. From a marketing standpoint, this seems like it would be a slam dunk for Jesus. It seems like the voice of God literally calling Jesus his “Chosen” would be an important thing for lots of people to hear. Yet, the only people who see it happen are Peter, James and John. And they almost sleep through it! And, when they come down the mountain, they don’t tell anybody what happened! Seriously, what is up with this story?
But this time, I was struck by what happens when they come down the mountain. Immediately after returning to the village, Jesus, begrudgingly, heals a boy who has been possessed by a demon and restores him to his family. And what happens? “All were astounded at the greatness of God.”
Herein, I think, I’ve found a point: God’s greatness is not mainly found in flashy, wonderous, “mountaintop” experiences. Instead, it is found in the valley, because it is there that God shows up to lift us from the dust and restore our lives to fullness. May we all learn to see God’s greatness in the valley.
St. Andrews UMC, Omaha
Prayer for Reflection
LORD Almighty, may I learn to see your greatness in the mundane and in the difficult experiences of my life. Rather than relying on mountaintop experiences to remind me of your presence, may I learn to see it in every second of every day. Amen.
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