This morning is one of those mad winter days when the wind blows everything across the sky. The clouds are dark, bringing snow or worse, but every so often they are scattered and the sun breaks through. Light changes everything. It’s a good day to read about the transfiguration.
What struck me this morning in my reading was the purpose behind the passage. Jesus took his friends up the mountain to pray. Prayer is significant in the Gospel of Luke. Big things happen when someone – and particularly when Jesus – prays. Following his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus while he was praying. Jesus chose his disciples after a long night spent on a mountain, praying. Even here in chapter 9, before the story of the transfiguration, Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah happened in the context of Jesus’prayer.
So we read that Jesus led Peter, John, and James up the mountain to pray.
“While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they say 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.”
You can take this as balance. Jesus is talking with the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) – the two sides of Jewish scripture. Or you might wonder about death and holy men. Elijah was taken into heaven without dying, and Moses’ death was part of God’s plan, just outside the Promised Land. There’s a Jewish tradition that it was God who buried Moses in the land of Moab, and that no one to this day knows his burial place. With Jesus approaching death, perhaps this glory-clothed conversation was an equipping for the difficult human steps he had to take as he approached the end of his earthly life.
But I wonder if this kind of reading of the passage is too much of an information-gathering approach. It fits with our impulse to collect and use facts. Jesus meets with these holy old hands and uses their experience to prepare for his own road ahead. To me, that might feel a little fact-heavy for a mountaintop experience.
Which brings me back to prayer. Jesus is on the mountain to talk with God. And in that act, he meets Moses and Elijah. He approaches God and is partnered with Scripture. I hear in this Eugene Peterson’s comment about the call to work with prayer and scripture.
“I was neither capable nor competent to form Christ in another person, to shape a life of discipleship in man, woman or child. That is supernatural work, and I am not supernatural. Mine was the more modest work of scripture and prayer – helping people listen to God speak to them from the Scriptures and then joining them in answering God as personally and honestly as we could in lives of prayer.”
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
And, of course, he doesn’t divide these tasks. They are scriptureprayer or prayerscripture – a fusion of speaking and listening and listening and speaking. It’s dwelling with God together.
Peterson describes all this as his primary pastoral work as a minister. But perhaps it’s the work of all disciples. I certainly hear it in my own context as a parent’s work – but I’ll get more into that a little further down the page.
Because first, we need to hear Peter. I love his crazy “let’s build houses!” approach to the mountaintop experience. The whole episode must have felt like a glory-filled celebration so he wanted to respond with rejoicing and tabernacles. He wanted to make it solid and surround the glory with sturdy walls. I want that, too. But then the cloud came back and they hear the voice of God.
And God says LISTEN.
In the midst of the scriptureprayer moment when all is shining bright and Peter like the rest of us wants to hold on and codify, God says LISTEN.
Be open. Receive. Don’t share yet. Don’t make this a forever. Forever is coming, but in ways that you can’t yet see. In the meantime, watch. Be aware. Keep your eyes on Christ. And receive.
This can be so hard. I really do want to build those walls with Peter and keep the good stuff inside. Especially as a parent. I want a place where my kids can know how it all is. I want to hold onto the clever answers that cross-reference Old and New Testaments and resound with German theological precision. I want the facts. But instead, we’re called to listen. And wonder. And wait.
So, I tell the stories I find in Scripture. I pray with and for my children. I wonder with them about prayer and about the stories. And together we try to listen to God in all these places, and even in each other.
“This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him.”
A song to help us listen to this scripture.