It’s hard to know which part of Jesus is more on display, his humanity or divinity, when he chews out the disciples on the other side the mountain top experience we celebrate today this Transfiguration Sunday. Is this the frustrated human or an angry deity or a little of both? I mean, as far as rebukes go, this one is pretty biting. In verse 41 of today’s reading Jesus says to the disciples, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” In essence, Jesus says to his followers, why am I stuck with you and why can’t you figure it out. A few verses later, Jesus again says to the disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears.”
In my most frustrating parenting moments, similar words have escaped my lips, and I looked at my five- year old and said, “what don’t you understand about what I’m telling you?”
Yet like my daughter who insists on putting her glass on top of her plate only to have it spill just like we told her it would, the disciples can’t catch on to what Jesus is telling them. It just won’t sink in.
What else could they need?
On top of the healings, the teaching, the exorcisms, the raising of a dead man, Jesus takes James, John and Peter to the top of this mountain and they see Jesus experience a dramatic change. He gets all shiny, and his clothes glow and Moses and Elijah are there and they talk about Jesus’ departure. Then these three disciples, are enveloped in a cloud and God speaks to them. I mean come on. Would that you or I could have that kind of experience. Wouldn’t it just make things easier to know, to be certain, to trust that it’s all real?
That’s what this transfiguration moment is all about. It’s Jesus’ moment of credentialing. After all, he’s said and done thus far in Luke’s gospel, Jesus appears to these three disciples with Moses and Elijah – the heavy hitters of the Old Testament – and gets a verbal stamp of approval from God that says this guy is it, listen to him.
But they don’t, at least not completely.
Because what Jesus is telling them doesn’t make sense in their worldview. It doesn’t make sense in our worldview. A person with the kind of credentials that Jesus has, the power that Jesus has, the influence that he could exercise, doesn’t just give it away. A person like Jesus shouldn’t be talking about his death, he shouldn’t be talking about getting handed over, getting betrayed by human hands. God’s chosen one, God’s son, shouldn’t be planning his departure instead he should be planning his triumph.
The path that Jesus is about to embark on is not a godly path, a least not by any human standards. As we’ll see this one who the crowds celebrate as he displays the breadth and depth of his power during his ministry becomes the one who the crowds mock as he hands over his life for the sake of the world.
What Jesus is talking about, what God is manifesting on this mountain, what the disciples see and hear doesn’t add up, it doesn’t square. How can a suffering God help?
We aren’t all that different from the disciples, I suspect. If you are at all like me, you want the God of the mountaintop, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God to swoop into time and space from the eternal heavenly realm and fix the mess we’ve made of this place. I find myself looking around at everything that’s going on in the world and saying to myself, won’t someone save us from this. So to glimpse a vision of transcendent glory on the mountain, as the disciples did, well I’d want to stay there too. Because I’ve seen what life is life down there and I want no part of that.
But where I seek escape from the difficulty of this world, the transfigured Jesus throws himself more fully into life in this world, even a life that culminates in death on a cross. In the road that leads to Jerusalem, we see God’s commitment to sharing more fully in the totality of our existence, in the fullness of what it means to be human. This moment on the mountain is God’s doubling down on us, on humanity, on this world. It is indeed God’s credentialing of the path that Jesus will take, even though it makes little or no sense to us.
So God’s words to the disciples on the mountaintop are spoken to us today too, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Listen to him.
In the difficult time in which we live, it can be easy to miss the voice of Jesus that calls us more fully into this world. It may appear more desirable to escape from the ugliness rather than confront it head on. So today I want to close with some words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote these words in June of 1944 while in prison in Nazi Germany.
God does not repay evil for evil, and thus the righteous should not do so either. No judgment, no abuse, but blessing. Blessing means laying one’s hand on something and saying, Despite everything, you belong to God. This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead, we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: may God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, the world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer.