Matthew 17: 1-9
Did you ever wonder about the other nine? They always seemed to be excluded or left out of some of the best moments in the gospels. It seems, like today with the Transfiguration, that it’s always Peter, James, and his brother John who get singled out and are given the chance to experience things that the others don’t. Let’s be real. The three of them aren’t even the most stellar of candidates to single out. We know Peter from hearing the stories. Next week his faith will be tested. He doubts. He denies. He runs away when things get tough. A little further down this journey the two brothers will be fighting amongst themselves as to who’s the greatest and who should sit at the right and left of the Lord. More often than not, these three are about power and grabbing for it in ways that never seems to end well.
Even in this gospel that we hear today they are told one thing to do and that’s to keep their mouths shut when they get down to the bottom of the mountain where the other nine are located. Now, I’m one of six and I can tell you that if three are separated to go experience something that the others don’t, one of two things will happen. Either they’ll come up quickly to find out what happened since it was a secret or the three will taunt the others that somehow they’re better than because they had something that the others didn’t! It’s life and it shows where they are at on this journey, still children themselves in faith. Like most, it won’t be until something is demanded of them before it’s all put to the test and who and what will stand the test of time.
It appears in these instances that Jesus is setting them up to fail, but maybe not fail in the sense that we often understand, but rather setting them up to fall apart and that they will do. The journey following the transfiguration in the gospels is one on the decline. Everything has been building to this point and from here on they will go down the mountain literally and figuratively, into Calvary, to the Cross, into their own hearts and souls. When their lives are demanded of them as the gospels go on, they will fall apart but they have to fall apart in order to once again build community on its true foundation in Christ. Up to the great test of the cross and their childish faith, not much has been asked of them. And as we know, even what is asked doesn’t seem to happen, like keeping their mouths shut about these experiences. It’s about that power that they think they have in their agendas, in their thinking of being better than, in talking about who’s the greatest, probably jealousy and all the rest that we are familiar with in our lives. Jesus could transfigure all he wants to these three, but at the moment, it doesn’t mean much of anything but can easily be used as an experience to build themselves up.
But the whole event casts a shadow upon them which is when they become fearful. They become fearful of themselves, more than anything and what this is all going to mean to them as the journey continues. It’s no wonder why Peter would rather stay here, stay put, because they’ve been given something without having to give anything in return. Nothing has yet been demanded of them in this journey of faith. This downward journey of transformation and conversion will eventually push them to change. We all know that none of us changes easily. We, like them, are often pushed to the brink, to the cliff, before we will finally surrender and let go, opening ourselves to change and transformation. It comes, so often, when our own mortality is put on the line before we can finally begin to ask what’s most important, what do we value, what gives us meaning, and quite frankly, what is it that I need to finally let go of in life.
All too often we hold on way to long rather than surrendering to the demand of the gospel to a change of heart, to grow into an adult faith of trust and mystery. That is what is revealed to them on that mountain in today’s gospel, but for them, not yet. For them, their center remains outside of them and beyond them and has not yet moved within. When they are finally confronted with the cross and everything begins to crumble around them, they will be left with the opportunity to mature in their faith and become the disciples the Lord summons them to and quite frankly, promises them from the very beginning. They will begin to form community around the eternal, around the transfigured Christ.
On this feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, sure, it is about the Lord’s transfiguration before these three would-be disciples, but in the end, it’s about what is going to be demanded of them in their own lives. If they could stop for a minute, maybe the most important thing that is revealed to them in this shadow is to listen. If we can learn to listen on a deeper level, beyond all the noise of our lives, the truth and the promise will begin to reveal itself to us. It will reveal itself to us as individuals but also as community and where it is we need to grow into the promise that is given in this moment. The day always comes when something is demanded of us and more often than not, it’s giving up what we think has given us life or giving up what we believe has given us life but no longer nourishes and nurtures us. That’s where true transformation can happen in our lives. As we listen, what is it we are holding onto in our lives, individually and collectively, that holds us back from the promise. It is in that space that surrender is being demanded to live a life of faith and trust in the promise shown in the Transfiguration.