Based on Mark 8:27-9:8
The Narrative Lectionary brings us to Transfiguration Sunday, matching it with the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday, although the Narrative Lectionary gives us more of Mark’s Gospel. Last Sunday we were in the first half of Mark 6. That means we are skipping over just about two full chapters of the Gospel. And in those two chapters we have Jesus feeding a multitude (twice), walking on water, healing the sick, dealing with human religious traditions, a foreigner’s faith, conflict with the Pharisees and a warning about Herod.
It’s at this point that we pick up the Gospel again and hear of Peter’s declaration of faith. Peter is the first person recorded in Mark’s Gospel to declare who Jesus is. And no wonder, Jesus has shown over the last several chapters that he has authority over nature, demons, disease, death, and hunger.
But even though Peter got the answer correct for who Jesus is, it becomes clear rather quickly that he didn’t really understand what being the Messiah was all about. Jesus isn’t going to be like the other “messiahs” who came to set Israel free from occupation. Jesus isn’t going to be the national hero Judas “the Hammer” Maccabees – forming a military uprising and using violence to throw off the last empire that controlled Israel, making the nation independent until Rome came on the scene.
No, Jesus talks about being rejected, suffering, and being killed, but rising on the third day. That’s not what a messiah is supposed to do, is it? Isn’t God’s chosen one supposed to be strong and mighty and powerful and able to crush enemies? We still have plenty of people who see God in this way. Some of the most lived creedal beliefs in the world today, and even within the wider church, mirror the central belief systems of how the world operates – the ends justify the means, might makes right, and the strong survive. But Jesus firmly rejects these ways of being and living. He rejects violence and the use of force. He rejects conquest. He rejects forcing people to believe his way. His way is invitational. His way is unpopular. His way is the way of hope through the worst of all things – death. Death doesn’t get the final say for Jesus. Yet, like Peter, all too often we are stopped in our tracks with the mention of death, not hearing what Jesus has to say is beyond that. There is hope. And hope is a future that is different from what we experience now. It is not ignoring or pretending what is happening now doesn’t exist. It’s looking right at it and saying – “It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better way.”
And that leads us to the Transfiguration – the changing of Jesus’ appearance to show his glory. How fitting that this would come right after Jesus describes what being the actual Messiah is really all about. The story ends with the cloud coming over them and a voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” It draws us back to Jesus’ baptism and it is a precursor to Jesus’ crucifixion, where each time Jesus is declared to be God’s Son.
In many ways the Transfiguration story is the apex of the Gospel. It is essentially halfway through the Gospel. Everything has been building up to this point. All the miracles, Jesus showing that he has authority over a variety of things, and more. It all leads to Jesus showing himself to his closest followers for who he really is. And now that they know who he is, we’ll come down the mountain and watch Jesus live fully into who he really is, culminating in his death and resurrection. Only God can defeat death. That is a radical message that flies in the face of what the empire, any empire, claims for itself – the power to kill, conquer, destroy, oppress. Jesus is essentially declaring the empire powerless compared to God’s reign.
Questions for Reflection
- How would you answer the question Jesus poses – Who do you say that I am? What does your answer mean? How does your answer impact how you live and what you do?
- What kind of messiah do you hope for? Someone to conquer enemies? Someone to fight on your behalf? Someone to show the right answers? Or a messiah who serves, empties oneself, and dies on behalf of us all?
- How has Jesus showed who he is to you?