Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, year B
texts: Mark 9:2-9; 2 Kings 2:1-12; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It was a really bad week for Simon Peter.
“Six days later,” Mark says today. Well, six days ago Peter declared his Master, Jesus, was the Messiah. Moments later, having told his Master that Messiahs can’t suffer and die, Peter was called Satan, a stumbling block.
He must have felt sick that week. One of the inner circle, a leader of the twelve, we imagine him keeping scarce at the back of the group, avoiding eye contact with Jesus. How do you recover from such a blow? What kind of a person did Peter think he was in those painful, sad days?
Now, six days later, as Peter woke on this day, his Lord called to him, and James, and John. Just like always. “Come with me.” Tell me: what does Peter feel about himself now? Elated to be included again, as if nothing had happened? There must still have been fear and doubt. His confused speech up on the mountain later that day showed he was still unsure, still misunderstanding Jesus’ mission.
The real question is less what Peter thinks of himself, and more what Jesus thinks of him. Peter’s misery, self-doubt, sense of failure are only his point of view. Yes, Jesus rebuked him when he tried to block him from the path that Jesus must walk. Apparently that didn’t mean Jesus despised or rejected him. Jesus saw his true value and worth; so he kept coming back to Peter, calling him to lead.
This day reveals true identities.
Jesus is shown in his divine glory; his truth as Son of God is witnessed by three disciples. Peter’s true identity is leader of the twelve, a rock Jesus trusts. At this point, convinced he’s a failure as a disciple, Peter doesn’t see it, but Jesus does. So when Jesus needs his three leaders with him on the mountain, of course he brings Peter.
Jesus isn’t changed on this mountain, his true identity is revealed. So is Peter’s. Peter needed Jesus to see him for who he truly was. It may also be why Elisha, knowing his master was leaving with the Lord, needed to stay with Elijah, so he could have assurance he was the true successor. We need others to see us for who we truly are when we can’t.
What is the truth about Peter, then? Elisha? You, me? Who knows it?
We often worry about how we fail, convinced we’re not good enough, that others are better. Is this our truth? Many times we feel as if others judge us, don’t think well of us. We’re never too far from that child within that remembers such fear from our school days, fear we’re the only one who doesn’t fit. We can pretend – and we do – that we don’t have problems, but most of us know that dark night of self-doubt and sense of failure. Is this our truth? Peter’s experience of those six days is familiar to many.
Yet Jesus saw the truth about Peter when he couldn’t. Elijah saw the truth about Elisha when he couldn’t. Who sees the truth about us? Our answer emerges on this mountain, both who we truly are and how we see that truth ourselves.
It all has to do with who is with us.
We need sisters and brothers in faith to look at us and see the child of God we are, to see what God sees.
Jesus knows he’s headed to the cross, but today he goes up a mountain, shows his true glory, and speaks with the two great leaders of Israel, Elijah and Moses. Jesus needed this, strength and encouragement from the great prophet and the great law-giver for the path to the cross that is ahead.
So why bring three relatively incompetent disciples along? Not so they can tell others, he makes that clear. Not until the resurrection, he says, but even then they don’t do much with it. After the resurrection this is pretty unimportant. A mountain light show is nothing compared to the Lord rising from the dead. The early preaching Luke records and the earliest writing we have from Paul, don’t mention this day on the mountain, only the cross and empty tomb.
What if Jesus just needed these three as companions, to see the truth about him? The truth about who he is, before his path takes him to a place that doesn’t look at all like God’s glory? He’s preparing Peter and the others to face the truth of the cross by giving them a glimpse of his true glory. Now, whenever they look at Jesus, no matter how awful it gets, they can remember who he really is.
That seems to be our role as companions to each other in this journey of faith. We look at each other and no matter what we see outwardly, we look deeper and see a blessed child of God. Then we witness to that, so it can be known.
This is how Jesus helps us when we think poorly of ourselves in our darkest hours: we are given each other to see the real truth. So when any of us despairs because we’re sure we’re not good enough, not cutting it, someone here can look at that one and remind them they see a glorious child of God.
You see, we are being transformed into people who look like Christ Jesus.
That’s the promise Paul makes in the verses a little before our second reading today, words the Cantorei are singing for us. Yet, just as with Jesus’ transfiguration, it’s not really that we are being changed.
We already are people who look like Christ Jesus, people who in baptism are made into the image of God. At least, we look like that to the Triune God who loves us. God sees the fullness of who we are, of what we are becoming, as Jesus looked at Peter and saw a great leader, a special disciple, essential to spreading the Good News.
Our job is to remind each other of this, to look for this image of God in each other, even if it’s not easy to see outwardly. Jesus had every reason to look at Peter’s failings, his cowardice, his confusion, but he looked deeper to the real truth.
So we look at each other. Beyond the failings, beyond the sin and brokenness, we look into the eyes of our sisters and brothers and see the image of Christ. We as a community look at each other with the eyes of God, the loving eyes of the One who died for us and now lives. We share these loving eyes of God and call out this joy we see in each other.
As we are transformed into Christ, more and more people will be able to see this in us.
God sees us this way fully, but of course none of us show this to the world fully yet. As we learn to see Christ in each other, we begin to expect it in each other, and even start to see hope ourselves that it is our real truth, not that other that binds us. When this happens, our truth of being the image of Christ will become more and more obviously visible on the outside. God’s forgiveness truly heals us and changes us into better people, people like Christ, and we learn to see this.
The more we see, the more it becomes real to us. The more it becomes real to us, the more the rest of the world can see it.
Paul says God shines in our hearts to give us knowledge of the glory of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ. That same divine light shines in our hearts to help us see this transformation and glory in each other.
We might feel like Peter many days. But thanks be to God, who gives us companions in our journey of faith here, with God’s light in their eyes and God’s love in their hearts, people who see us for who we truly are, until, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, that’s exactly what we see in ourselves, and it becomes our visible witness we live in the world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen