Trying to Get the Disciples’ Attention

Looking ahead to the Gospel reading for Transfiguration Sunday (Matthew 17:1-9), I'm struck by how calm – clueless? – the disciples are despite some pretty odd things happening around them.

Doratallmountain First, after leading Peter, James and John up a high mountain (as the parent of three young children, I can't help but think of Dora the Explorer when I imagine Jesus and his disciples climbing up a high mountain), Jesus "was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white." Yet, despite watching some pretty weird stuff happen to Jesus, the disciples say nothing.

Obi-wan-ghost Then, Moses and Elijah appear. Now, we don't know if these appearances were flesh-and-blood appearnces, or more akin to the ghost-like apparition of Obi Wan Kenobi in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (though, judging from Peter's offer to build shelters for everybody, Moses and Elijah probably looked real to him). All we know is that these two ancients show up in some form, with Jesus and his disciples, on top of this high mountain.

What happens next is strange for both what is said, and for what is left unsaid. Peter, trying to be a dutiful helper, offers to build shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (did he think they were going to stay up there for a while?). But what is noticibly lacking from him or any of the other disciples is any surprise or awe that Moses and Elijah showed up in the first place. Two great pillars of the faith from centuries earlier, one who died and the other who had been assumed into heaven, show up atop a mountain, and all Peter can think to do is to pitch a few tents? Surely Peter's offer might reveal an attentiveness to hospitality concerns, but he seems to completely ignore or be oblivious to the completely sacred and momentous moment that is unfolding before his eyes.

To recap: Jesus' face is glowing like the sun, and his clothing is dazzling like a technicolor dreamcoat, only in white, not technicolor. Elijah and Moses show up, and Peter is looking for the tent stakes.

Finally, the voice of God echoes out of a bright cloud, using words to say what Peter couldn't perceive through wondrous, supernatural acts. "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" Peter, James, and John cower before the voice of God, and are scared as the dickens. Jesus comforts his disciples with a touch, as if healing them of their fear, and instructs them to "tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Why, after all that they had seen, does the voice of God freak them out? God's voice booms out of the heavens at Jesus' baptism, using similar words, but there's no report that people were scared. Why would a voice from the heavens scare the disciples when a glowing face, dazzling clothing, and the sudden appearance of ancient forefathers of the faith could not inspire even an ounce of awe?

This passage is not ultimately about the disciples, but I find their response to the amazing works of God atop that mountain to be curious and worth pondering in preparation for Sunday's sermon.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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