While the story of the Transfiguration is in all three Synoptic Gospels, it is only Luke who tells us what Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about: They “were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (v. 31).
Moses and Elijah have done hard things—impossible things—for God, and now they are talking with Jesus about the hard thing that God is calling him to do. They are speaking with him of his “departure”–not his departure to Jerusalem, but the departure that he will accomplish in Jerusalem. His crucifixion.
Jesus must be relieved to have someone to talk to about his death, because his disciples have proved less-than-helpful conversation partners. The disciples continue to cling to their image of a triumphant messiah, even as Jesus brings up his impending death more and more frequently. They don’t want to accept the fact that Jesus will be killed. I say “they” because I assume that most of the disciples felt this way, but it is Peter, of course, who is the primary spokesperson. In Matthew 16, when Jesus tells the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and die, Peter yells out, “Never, Lord! These things must never happen to you!”
So it should not surprise us that, while Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus about his departure, Peter is suggesting that he build three dwelling places right there on the mountain—so everyone can stay put. For those preachers who want to explore this week’s text beyond the Transfiguration story, there are multiple examples of the disciples’ ineptitude and confusion in this week’s full reading.
But getting back to the mountain, I imagine Jesus needs this time with Moses and Elijah; he needs this conversation with people who know what it is to do hard things for God; people who will encourage him to follow God’s path even though it is unpopular and uncomfortable and terrifying. Just as God came to Moses and Elijah on Mount Horeb to encourage and guide them in their work, God also comes to Jesus on this mountain of Transfiguration.
Perhaps this week’s story could be an invitation for us to talk with each other—and even with God—about the hard things in our own lives. Perhaps Peter’s haste is a notice for us to slow down, his tendency toward denial an encouragement for us to face the truth. And perhaps this spectacular vision is simply a reminder that God is with us, and the community of saints surrounds us, each step of the journey.
Links for Further Inspiration:
- This week’s Bibleworm podcast
- Working Preacher commentary from Karl Jacobson
- A reflection and worship pieces from my blog
Please share your thoughts and resources for the week in the comments below.
Rev. Joanna Harader serves as pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS. She blogs about the Narrative Lectionary readings–among other things–at Spacious Faith.
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