In the Transfiguration, we get the big spectacle event, so consuming with visual, power, and misunderstanding, we might fail to hear the voice in the middle of it all saying “listen to him.”
Are we listening to Jesus any better than the disciples?
Epiphany Last B | Mark 9:2-9
read, listen, or read while you listen!
The story doesn’t begin at the base of the mountain.
It begins back with the opening line:
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
And the quote from Isaiah, the introduction of John the Baptizer, and Jesus showing up, going under the water and coming up to find the Spirit descending and the voice booming
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
That’s the beginning. Back when we don’t know who this guy is, but we know everything we need to know about him.
He is the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God. And at his baptism, God speaks directly to him, calling him son, beloved and telling him just how pleased with him God is. Words every son wants to hear.
So much more happens before the mountain, we can’t get to it all. But right before they go up, Jesus is talking to his followers, these people-fishers he sought out and gathered around him.
They are nearing the end of the first half of their journey, gathered in the north, near a Greek city, Caesarea Philippi. And Jesus asks the followers who they think he is and Peter, always the eager beaver, calls him Messiah, Christ.
Bingo! We’ve heard that already! Chapter 1, verse 1.
Jesus’s cryptic response is to tell Peter to tell nobody.
But then Jesus begins to speak to the rest. Not about riding to Jerusalem like a new King David; an idea which would have definitely lit Peter up like a Christmas tree and fit his expectations. And the expectations of many today who expect Jesus to show up on a cloud the same way: raining down terror upon his enemies.
Instead, Jesus says that he’s going to suffer and die.
Peter, whose mind is probably blown by this idea, pulls Jesus aside to rebuke him. Maybe knock some sense into him if he has too. Like the Best Man to the Groom when he’s talking crazy.
But Jesus isn’t talking crazy. He’s the one who gets the stakes. He calls Peter “Satan” and tells him to get behind him. And then he tells the crowd about the stakes of following him. Sacrifice. And your attempts to protect your life will ensure that you lose it.
And the next verse tells us that six days pass and Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Like setting up a divine experience, going to church, for the Sabbath.
What a Sabbath!
And it is here, up this mountain, or for those left at the bottom, when we all get lost.
This isn’t a test, but his students are failing anyway. Because they aren’t listening.
But it would be arrogant of us to blame them. We fail here, too. Because what awaits these three disciples on the mountain is a true spectacle. The kind of moment to which all mountain top experiences should be based. White light so bright it makes bleached sheets look yellow. Visions! Confirmation that Jesus is the real deal! All of this!
And even the voice, the return of the voice of God injects into the story like a lightning bolt. It sounds the same, but it’s different. Listen to the voice. Close your eyes and listen.
Last time it spoke to Jesus and this time God speaks to the three disciples:
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
God does not say look at this display of power or build a tabernacle. God says listen!
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Stop talking. Listen. He’s telling you how to follow him. You only think you’re lost. Your guide is right in front of you.
And suddenly the spectacle is gone and only Jesus remains. And they walk down the mountain in silence.
Awaiting them at the bottom of the mountain, the disciples left behind have screwed up a healing and are being harassed by scribes. Soon they’ll argue over who is the best and James and John will ask to be Jesus’s co-Number-Twos.
They aren’t listening.
Peter, James, and John, the three who go up the mountain, prove they aren’t listening. None of the disciples are. They thought they were special, better.
They weren’t listening before and they’re failing to listen now.
Like so many generations ago, when those Hebrew people, who were wandering in the desert, send Moses up the mountain to commune with God. And when he’s gone 40 days, the people freak out and mold a golden calf for worship.
I suppose you’d have to be there…to think the calf thing was a good idea. I suppose they were like…It’s been five weeks, so let’s find a new god. How long are we supposed to wait? 40 days? Pfff. It’s not like we’ll be out here for 40 years or anything!
But these mountain tops and the people left behind—these aren’t rational moments they’re experiencing. These aren’t grand depictions of how things should be every day. And they aren’t our means of returning to former glory.
We don’t make an idol of our days of greatness and preserve that in a box, like the arc of the covenant and carry it around with us—like putting on old clothes, buying a sports car, and blasting classic rock brings the glory back. We all just look foolish.
Listen. We’re lost. Listen for his voice. He’s trying to tell us that we already know the way. He’s already told us he’s going to Jerusalem. And soon he’ll meet his maker.
This Wednesday we’ll enter into our season of listening.
And you might feel lost or confused or out of sync with the world around you. But that’s par for the course with Jesus.
Before going up the mountain he said
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”
Listen! It takes sacrifice. Not measuring each other’s sacrifice or comparing our sacrifice with our neighbor’s. The sacrifice of the cross; of power and status and security and being best and greatest at anything. Giving up the love of winning, of greatness and glory, and throwing that into the fire like one more of our idols. This is our golden calf, crafted in arrogance and impatience.
Jesus is walking to Jerusalem. And we’re called to follow him. Listening. Avoiding the mesmerizing spectacles and temptations to condemn our neighbors to the hell of our making. We listen to him.
Listen to his voice, telling us to love, make peace, show mercy, and seek reconciliation. Listen with longing and hope, and the one true certainty we have: that this is the beginning of the Good News. This is the beginning of the Good News.
This is the beginning.
The Good News
Jesus Christ, Son of God.
A path of love and mercy straight into hell. And on the third day we overcome it. We rise, reborn, like stardust.