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Mind Blowingly Simple

Australian Cityscape

Week of Sunday Feb 19- Transfiguration Sunday
Gospel: Mark 9:2-9

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Thirty years ago I had a religious experience on the road. It was a remote desert road, and late at night. I was sitting in the truck, watching myself, ecstatic, lifted out of my brain at 110 kilometres an hour. I spent three weeks, maybe four, on an extended high. A visiting jackeroo thought I was on drugs. One of my friends said he’d been at a pub on the same road, at Kulgera, and bloke came in, spaced out, high, mind-blown, just like me. It happens. And like Peter, we don’t understand. I’d be tempted to say I’d imagined it all, but my wife was with me, and woke up with me driving like a maniac, singing at the top of my voice!  It happened.

What I’m saying is that this experience in Mark is real. These things happen. People who say they are made up,  are demonstrating their ignorance. Mark’s story is carefully crafted, of course. He has added layer upon layer of allusion to the experience. He is trying to draw out meaning, to make sense of what happened.

What actually happened is anyone’s guess; I’m not sure what happened to me, and I was there—sort of.

Mark provides us with a heap of allusions; hints, suggestions and flavours. We are culturally removed, of course, and have to list them off somewhat woodenly. For his original readers, these allusions would come almost unbidden.

We know we go up mountains to see God; we still do that. There is more: after six days reminded people of their scriptures, where Moses’ went up Mt Sinai with Joshua. The mountain was covered by the clouds for six days. (Exodus 24)

Clouds on mountains mean revelation, and the presence of God, such as at the giving of the Law. Indeed, in this vision, the disciples see Moses; the hint is not particularly subtle.

When Moses was in the presence of the Divine, his face shone. (Ex 34)  Matthew (17) retells this story from Mark. In his retelling, Jesus’ face shines. Matthew understood.

Loader adds less obvious content.

Jesus is changed before their eyes and his clothes become glistening white. While such splendour indicates belonging to the heavenly world, the transformation of a normal physical body into a spiritual body was part of the hope of the future resurrection. ....  In Mark 9:2-9 this is already seen as happening for Jesus, even if temporarily. We are being given an advance showing of the climax of history. It is what we might expect after 9:1 which speaks of the kingdom come in power.

So something is being said about Jesus both in the vertical dimension: heavenly; and in the horizontal dimension: he belongs to the vision of future hope. This last emphasis also explains some other elements in the story. Elijah was expected to come at the climax of history (Malachi 4:5-6). This hope reappears during the crucifixion where people think Jesus’ cry is for Elijah (15:35). Elijah is mentioned in 8:28 and also in 9:11-12, on the descent from the mountain, where the interpretation is offered: John the Baptist is to be seen as Elijah. Elijah is Mark’s main focus in 9:2-9, rather than Moses, so we are told they saw ‘Elijah with Moses’.

Peter “gets it,” and doesn’t. Loader says, “The complex tapestry of allusions continues with Peter’s suggestion that tents be erected for the three persons, probably reflecting the practice of the Feast of the Tabernacles when men and their sons spent time in such temporary huts in a reminder of the time Israel spent in the wilderness...”

They are in the wilderness, God is there, the wilderness is coming to an end... Peter remembered all his life what he saw and thought and heard, and just as likely, also wondered how he could have been so gauche in the very presence of God! Perhaps the fact that we can look back and realise we were naive and foolish is a sign that we have grown.

For the reader, Mark makes things very clear. He does not risk us missing the point, for the words of Jesus’ baptism are repeated. This time, they are said to everyone present, not just Jesus. This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him! (cf 1:10-11)

We cannot live on a mountain top experience. I know the desert road must have happened. It’s in my letters to home. It’s on my web site. My wife will make a wry comment about driving under the influence. But there is no staying on the mountain top. We have to come down to the ordinary and the horrible. Immediately after this they meet the boy with the spirit which stopped him speaking.

The desert road experience has faded. I can’t live by it. It has lost its power! I doubt its veracity. But because I listened to him, because I followed him, something else has happened. There is more certainty of God, more changing of my life, greater peace, and a measure of wisdom.

The mountain top is a rare and mighty sign. It is a blessing. But salvation and satisfaction comes from listening to whom the mountain top points—and doing what he says.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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