In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Have you ever thought you had the correct answer only to find out upon further research that you though you got the correct answer, you really hadn’t the foggiest as the how you reached it?
Last week Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ near the shrine of Pan the God of the lecherous good time and Jesus told him that he did not come to know this by flesh and blood (symbolized by the pagan shrine), but by the Father who is in Heaven.
Jesus’ entire ministry at this point has been leading up to this revelation, and now it will take a dramatic change as he “enfleshes” the Christ, showing what it means to be the Christ. He begins to teach his disciples what it means to be the Christ: “he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day rise.”
Upon hearing this, Peter—whose ministry begins in fits and starts—says, “Na uh Jesus. Not on my watch you won’t.” Peter has many good qualities going for him, but “listens well” is not one of them at this point. He hears Jesus mention going to Jerusalem and thinks, “Yes of course, just like the messiah is supposed to and then we will bring on the heavenly revolution.”
Then he hears, “…must suffer… “ “Ok maybe a little initially, but these men will realize what is in front on them and then they will join the revolution or get out of the way.”
Then he hears, “…and die…” Full stop. “DIE?! Stop right there Jesus. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You cannot die, for just look at the great things that God has already done through you. All the Scriptures point to you and we will be victorious in the revolution.”
Peter obviously doesn’t hear what Jesus said next, and in typical Peter fashion, he doesn’t hang on for the rest, but goes off half-cocked: “Far be it from you Lord! This shall never happen to you!” In fact, Peter doesn’t really get it until it is all finished, for when the guards come to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter whips out his sword and tries to start the revolution of all proper-like by chopping off someone’s head. Peter tries for his own “shot heard round the world.”
Peter had delusions of grandeur, but, in reality, he is a lowly fisherman who knew enough about how to wield a sword to be dangerous, but the well-trained soldier ducks out of the way for a flesh-wound and he and his buddies are about to put their soldier training into full use by cutting down Peter, until Jesus steps in and saves Peter’s life. Through all the time he spent with Jesus, he never got it.
Back at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus turns to Peter, again with that edge that is beginning to heat up: “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance—a stumbling block—to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus then tells his disciples what it will really look like for the followers of the Christ: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” He said “some” because one of their group will have to watch the coming of the Son of Man from the eternal sidelines—Judas.
That night at camp, Jesus tells the inner circle, Peter, James, and John, “Pack your bags, the four of us are going on a journey.” To the rest, he said, “hang out here and if anything comes along, handle it until we get back.” And off Jesus and the inner circle go six days up to Mount Hermon, to a rough elevation of 10,000 feet covered in snow. I never really thought of the disciples having snow gear, but I guess they did since they go camping in it.
And as they summit the mountain, everyone takes off their packs and finds a comfy place to rest and recoup (even though they were in much better shape, I’m sure they needed a bit of a breather since they are not necessarily used to the lack of air almost 2 miles up). So they are drinking water and waiting to see why in the world Jesus brought them up here, when they turn and look at him and are blinded by the light.
The text here reads that Jesus was transfigured, but this is a vague meaning for us. The Greek word is metamorphosis. Jesus didn’t just suddenly get all bright and shiny, but metamorphosed similar to a caterpillar turning into a butterfly—it was that different; same DNA though much different in appearance. Normally we would say that here Jesus was showing the disciples his divinity, but Dr. Bill Creasy claims we have this wrong. Jesus is not showing his divinity, but rather is showing his perfect humanity.
Back in Genesis we learn that Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God, and we learn from Moses’ encounters with God that it makes one shine. So Adam and Eve must have similarly shone since they were in his immediate presence in the Garden of Eden. But after they ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they realized that they were naked. This was not them simply and all of the sudden noticing that they had on no clothes, it was the light going out and them looking at each other and seeing a now marred image of God on each other. It is like the two of them went from butterfly and metamorphosed back into caterpillars—it was that shocking indeed. “What have we done?!”
So Jesus is present in his full humanity—showing the inner three his ultimate goal: restoration of the perfect image of God to humanity by removing the stain of sin—and he is there with Moses and Elijah. Now Deuteronomy states that two people are the minimum standard for a legitimate witness. These two (and who better that Moses and Elijah—the Law and the Prophets) are the witnesses required to substantiate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah—the Christ.
Jesus then tells Peter, James, and John, not to tell anyone until after the Son of Man is raised. Why? Because the people would try to do exactly what Peter tried to do and turn him into an earthly messiah and complicate the entire thing. They would create and insurrection and there would be a whole lot of unnecessary blood spilt simply because the people believed him to be something that he was not. We can see in the Triumphal Entry that it was close, but luckily Jesus was able to take the situation into his own hands and dictate the terms rather than be forced to be something he is not.
As they are heading down, the pieces begin to click into the minds of the inner circle and they connect the dots of John the Baptist being the Elijah everyone was looking for prior to the coming of the Messiah. But when they reach camp back in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus realizes how much further everyone still has to go.
The remaining disciples are found unable to cast out a demon from a boy with epilepsy. Jesus chastises his disciples for their lack of faith: “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And he casts out the demon. They have a little bit of faith, but it is not yet sufficient to accomplish greatness. Were they to believe fully or even, he says, as much as a tiny grain of mustard,(in him as the true messiah and what that means) they could say to this mountain (Mt. Hermon where they just left) “move from here to there” and it will move and nothing will be impossible for you. And so he, again, teaches them about what the Messiah must do for the redemption of the world.
Beloved, we are called to believe in God and believe that he is who he is and does what he does. We are also called to understand, but as St. Augustine tells us, understanding is based first on believing. “I believe that I may understand.” If we approach the greatness to which we are called saying “I will not believe it possible until I understand,” we will never achieve belief—we cannot do it ourselves. But if we approach this greatness saying “I believe though I don’t fully understand,” God can do great things to open our eyes and unlock the mysteries.
The disciples are a great example for us. Look what happens when the disciples finally get it: the great works they accomplish in the Acts of the Apostles. They finally get it because they came to believe a little: “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and with that God shows them great things indeed. If we are willing, Beloved, God can do great things through us as well.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.