The Last Sunday of Epiphany C
John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke.
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.Luke 9:28-36
The Gospel of the Lord.
The mysterious event in this morning’s Gospel reading, Transfiguration, is one of my favorites. It says so many things in so many ways. There is the temporary pulling back of a veil so that we catch a glimpse of His divinity. And in that glimpse there is understandable confusion and misunderstanding. There is the divine voice interpreting the event. And there is a subtlety easily missed: The encouragement given to him as he begins his journey to the cross and the encouragement given to all disciples as they reflect upon this. And there is the implied promise there is more to come. Now may the Lord of revelation lift a little more of the veil and throw light on that which is holy.
Luke. Welcome. Please come in and sit down. It’s been a long time. I read your letter eagerly. I was pleased to learn you are traveling with Paul and his co-workers full time now in the Gentile mission. Your letter said you were doing interviews piecing together a story about Jesus for one of your supporters, Theophilus. Thank you so much for taking the time to come to Ephesus to speak with me.
Now concerning the “Mountain” you asked about in your letter. Well, yes, I was an eyewitness on that day along with my brother James and Peter. What I’m about to tell you happened a long time ago. We didn’t talk about it much back then or since. But I’ve had a lot of time to think about that day. I remember it as if it took place just a few minutes ago.
We had left behind the familiar sights and sounds of Bethsaida and the Galilee walking north on the western road toward Syria.
Jesus had this amazing ability to gather ordinary folk around him as he passed through villages. The crowds grew bigger and bigger as we walked. Jesus started urging the folk to become disciples following him like we were. He was using some strong words to make the full weight of commitment clear. He began speaking about taking up one’s cross daily, losing one’s life. He was making discipleship more and more difficult. He even had the twelve of us rethinking our commitments.
Well all these things he was saying had people curious, wanting to catch a glimpse of him, questioning who he thought he was. And there sure were a lot of ideas floating around. Some folks thought he was Elijah, some John the Baptizer returned from the dead, others thought he was one of the old prophets returned to life, still others thought he was the prophet who would renew the kingdom.
After a couple of days of walking, we were passing by a high mountain. Jesus slowed to a stop, singled Peter, my older brother James and myself out of the other disciples motioning us to follow him. It turns out he was going to climb up that mountain.
So we left the crowd and the others and set off with Jesus. We didn’t know what to expect. But I do think we hoped we might have a chance to talk Jesus out of all the strange, scary stuff he had been saying about suffering and dying, about saving or losing lives.
We walked steadily, past the tree line, until we nearly reached the peak. Now we’re not used to high altitude. We’re fisherman-sea level and all that you know. So after the long climb we were short of breath and sleepy. Jesus went off a little further by himself and we settled in among the rocks for a nap.
Luke, I want to pause here to make this point clear. The three of us are Galilean fishermen like our fathers and our father’s fathers. Jesus chose us to go with him. We didn’t set this up. What started unfolding around us snapped us awake. It rocked our boat. All of a sudden there was a brightness that was and is beyond my ability to describe. What was occurring all around us made the day feel like darkness. And there I was without a hat, sunglasses or sunscreen!
And then Elijah and Moses were standing with him, talking about his exodus about to happen in Jerusalem. Light bearers and light sharers, the Torah and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah, two mountains in Israel’s story: Mt. Sinai where YHWH lit up the face of Moses with his presence and Mt. Horeb where YHWH spoke ever so softly from a raging, fiery storm to Elijah hidden in the rocks. We listened to them discussing Jesus’ Passover and his decision to pass through water deeper than the Red Sea to another mountain: Mount Golgotha.
An awesome realization came over us, wave upon terrifying wave. We were looking into a brilliant lit face. We beheld his glory, glory as of the Father’s only Son full of grace and truth. Our storm of awe and bewilderment would not reach its frenzied height until we realized his glory was most recognizable wearing a crown of thorns.
Then this fog bank rolled in. We were terrified. Couldn’t see them any longer but I’d recognize that voice anywhere. Portable sheds. Three portable sheds. Really. Peter, what are you talking about? Did you look around? Did you see trees or even many shrubs? Do you know how many trips we would have to make up and down this mountain to build just one shed? We’re fishermen, for heaven’s sake, not carpenters or long distance truckers. I didn’t know about my brother but coming up that mountain one time was enough for me. Well…. Well, it’s a good thing the divine Voice broke in and shut both of us up. I was well on the way to saying something I would regret.
Down the mountain, everyone wanted to know who he was but for us the Voice from the fog confirmed his identity and his mission. The divine command “Listen to him” was a call to understand Jesus: who he is as the Son of God, as well as a subtle call for us to understand the implications of following him. We didn’t realize it then but this was a turning point in Jesus’ life, a point of major transition as he shifted from his active ministry among us to face Jerusalem, the place of his death and resurrection.
So Luke, all of this “stuff” on the mountain prepared Jesus to go back down the mountain and continue his ministry until he reached Jerusalem. Simply, the mountain event set out the shape of and direction for the rest of his ministry. And for me, at least, the light turned on when I realized every disciple needs to live out his/her own journey. But hastily let me add not as individuals but as a community. Most disciples don’t seem to ever go up onto a mountain; some of those that do, want to camp out. In the end, however, every disciple has to come down from the mountain into a world of daily ministry, facing the consequences of his/her faith. Mountain experience can look appealing, sometimes more appealing than daily ministry. Nevertheless, disciples are called to daily ministry. Yes it’s true mountain experiences get your head out of the day to day but they also show disciples how important others are. Sometimes I’m tempted to go it alone rather than ask for help, sometimes to hesitate to help when I’m asked. But the Kingdom of God asks me to do both: to humble myself to receive help and to help others in humility. I now know that’s why I needed to go back down the mountain.
You see Luke Jesus chooses disciples to make a difference in the valleys, on the roads, in the shops. Remember there aren’t that many resources above the timberline of a mountain. But there are a lot more down the mountain. There are a lot more resources to draw upon when trying to be a friend to the working poor or the homeless, to being a friend to the person suffering significant medical or mental health issues or simply, encouraging, comforting a husband, wife or child.
Luke, I live and work at an intersection here in Ephesus, a common street corner far from the mountain. This place is full of congestion and accidents waiting to happen. Ordinary occasions filling daily life. There are all kinds of conflicts: religion, lifestyles, politics, and ideology. But all these folk here need the picture of Jesus that I experienced on the mountain and they also need a practical faith down from the mountain. Disciples don’t need to sell a newer, better version of Jesus, the latest bells and whistles. But they do need to come alongside folk and meet them where they are living in homes and shops, on highways- bringing a self-giving, transforming love into their lives. Down from the mountain, practical ministry is to make the secular sacred.
Jesus’ ministry is about meeting us where we are. When we were called by the Lord, we were not promised a mountaintop event. Rather we are plunged into the depths of daily life. It seems clear that the Lord wants most of us, when called, to stay where we are, or to sometimes go where He wants, but always to do His work… most often to live and work in places far removed from the mountaintop. The presence of the kingdom of God brings incredible light into our lives. But it doesn’t show us everything at one time. Some things are still shrouded in the fog bank. We will not know the direction of our journey until we actually travel the path following Jesus. If we as disciples were never tested we would never know the Lord’s strength or faithfulness. If we were never discouraged or broken we would never know the Lord’s ability to heal and mold us in his image. Valleys surround every mountain so may the Lord give us grace to support one another in this ministry down from the mountain.
You know, Luke, your questions and our conversation have brought back a lot of memories. As I said earlier We beheld his glory, glory as of the Father’s only Son full of grace and truth. I think I’ll get some parchment and write my narrative about the good news of Jesus’ mission.
Transfiguration Grace to you all this morning.