Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He knows his days are numbered, that he must confront injustice and that the ruling authorities are determined to kill him, so he makes one last side trip with three friends, and climbs a mountain for a few days of prayer and solitude.
Suddenly, his clothes become “dazzlingly white,” a biblical sign of martyrdom, and Elijah appears, representing the prophets, and Moses appears, representing the Law of God, and together they represent the entire spiritual Hebrew tradition, and they start talking to Jesus, as Luke later explains, encouraging Jesus to walk the path of nonviolent resistance from the mountaintop to the cross.
And how do the disciples respond? I think Peter, James and John are like Curly, Moe and Larry, the Three Stooges. In Luke’s version, they are sound asleep. I think that offers a good image of the male-dominated church, sleeping through the Transfiguration of our Lord. We’ve been sleeping for two thousand years.
Instead of comforting Jesus and encouraging him on his journey to the cross, like Moses and Elijah do, Peter blurts out: “Master, it is good that we are here.” Think about it. They are only concerned about themselves. They don’t really care about Jesus, or the fact that he is going to the cross.
“It is good for us to be here.”
If they cared about Jesus, Peter would affirm Jesus as Moses and Elijah do, and say, “Jesus, it is good for YOU to be here, to receive this consolation and confirmation from the holy ones, before you go to your death. Is there anything we can do to help?”
Instead, Peter, like a typical churchman, tries to take control of the situation. “Step aside Moses and Elijah. We’re in charge here. Forget about the cross Jesus, and all that talk about suffering and death. Let’s build some houses here, maybe a retreat center, maybe a ski resort, and stay here forever, far away from Jerusalem and the Temple, from the world and its injustice, from the cross and death.”
I think there is a part of Peter lurking in each one of us, more concerned about ourselves and our egos and our own fate then supporting Jesus as he goes to the cross, much less following him.
Like Peter, we all want to control God, to stay in a comfortable place forever, far away from our own Jerusalems. Like Peter, we want to avoid the cross.
If only Jesus would listen to us! That’s what Peter says, and what we think too. Instead of accompanying Jesus back down the mountain into the messy confrontation with the authorities and its bloody outcome, we resist Jesus. We disobey Jesus. Eventually, like the disciples, we run away from him.
And just at this moment, as Peter tries to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem, a cloud comes and overshadows them and the voice of God speaks from the cloud, gently telling the terrified disciples, “This is my beloved. Listen to him.”
Here we have one of the clearest and most neglected commandments of the scriptures, the only time God personally, directly speaks to the disciples, and the message could not be more to the point: “Will you all please be quiet and listen to Jesus and hear what He has to say and do what he says.” God sounds like an exasperated parent, which is how I think God must feel today.
But who cares about Jesus? Who really listens to him? We would much rather do all the talking. We prefer to talk to one another and to tell Jesus what to do, like Peter. Deep down, we think Jesus is naïve, unrealistic, idealistic, out of touch, with his head in the clouds, that he could not possibly understand our situation or our personal problems or the world or Saddam.
We have a lot of voices that we listen to today. Maybe you listen to CNN or Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw. Maybe you listen to the President or Chaney or Powell or Rumsfield or the other warmakers.
But today God commands us to listen to Jesus. God calls us as a community to be people who listen to Jesus, people of prayer who attend to every word of Jesus, people who read the Gospels and take Jesus at his word, even if we do not understand him. From now on, we are not going to listen to the voices of the world, the voices of war, the voices of violence. We are going to listen to Jesus.
Why don’t we want to listen to Jesus? Really, at some level, we think we do not need Jesus. As proud, devout, arrogant, pious, angry, self-righteous, mean, hateful people, we think we have all the answers. We don’t need to listen to Jesus.
Perhaps deep down we are just as terrified of God as Peter, James and John. But if we dare listen to Jesus, we hear a very specific, counter-cultural, but life-affirming message, that is the ultimate comforting, good news: “As the Father loves me, so I love you. Do not be afraid. Love one another. Love your enemies. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be compassionate. Forgive one another. Seek first God’s reign and God’s justice. Put down the sword, take up the cross and follow me. Peace be with you.”
Today, God lets us off the hook. From now on, all we have to do is listen to Jesus.