Before diving into the Transfiguration, we have to back up just a little. The Transfiguration is part 2. First, we have to discuss part 1.
The Beloved (Day 27 of A Simple Lent) | Friday
The second half of chapter 8 is the most important part of the gospel we call Mark. It is the great turning point, the literal center of the story. It is the way in which the rest of the gospel hopes to be understood. It is therefore, and quite arguably, more important to the reader than even the crucifixion.
Note that I said reader and not theologian. For the Passion serves as the great finale. The rising action builds up to the moment of proof–proof of the disciples lack of understanding, proof of Rome’s earthly power and GOD’s juxtaposed view of redemptive mercy as its own vision of power. The crucifixion itself is the climax: with the understanding that maybe the story might yet change. Perhaps this is less inevitable than it seems.
Stunningly, the evangelist gives us a cliffhanger at the end–a story to be finished, not for us, but through us in a Christ resurrected and transforming the world by revelation in his followers.
The pivotal moment in the story, the most striking and important, is the dramatic turn to Jerusalem and the identification of Jesus and the mission. In asking his disciples such a simple question
Who am I?
he asks them the essence, not only of Jesus’s character, but theirs. Who is Jesus to them? And what does that imply?
We know that when Peter says “Messiah” he doesn’t have carrying crosses in mind, but carrying swords and shields. More striking is that he has to reprimand Peter so quickly – that he loses track of Jesus’s true identity so fast.
As a kid I loved this part. It was so counter-intuitive. I couldn’t imagine hearing Jesus rebuke one of his followers. It was like If the disciples aren’t perfect, then what hope do I have? So when Jesus says to Peter
Get behind me, Satan!
We can feel the hurt and the confusion, but we often miss the teaching in the rebuke. In my last sermon about this passage, I argue that it is Peter’s posture that is wrong, not only his words. He means to interrupt Jesus’s turn toward Jerusalem and become a stumbling block. Rather than physically be behind Jesus as a disciple, he is taking the wrong position in front of him.
What I rarely consider is that this passage is followed immediately by the Transfiguration. It is 6 days later and Jesus is going up a mountain and two are put at his right hand and his left: both of them dead prophets. Peter, fresh off his rebuke, puts his foot in his mouth again. And then GOD steps in and announces that Jesus is the beloved. Listen to him!
Identity and Hope
This two-part turning point is not only full of rich imagery, it gives us a profound vision of identity and hope.
Identity that Jesus is Messiah, anointed and beloved. Not like David as king and conqueror, but as liberator and lover of GOD. The rabbi who reveals the kingdom and will lead us to redemption. Not in the way the world cares about it, but in the way GOD has commanded: through love and devotion and service to one another.
Therefore, the mission, the march toward Jerusalem is the central action, the way followers will know who to become, because they are walking the road behind their rabbi. A road that leads them first up a mountain to revelation; to a GOD-be-with-us moment of vision and reminder that the road is in front of them, not behind.
As disciples, our road is in front of us, where our rabbi is walking. If we think Jesus is behind us, stuck where we’ve already been, we must be standing in the wrong spot.
Daily Office Readings
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This week’s homework is to find how to best embody a life of vocation.
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