We cannot go it alone

Transfiguration
Mark 9:2-9
Marian Free

In the name of God whose engagement with the world draws us into engagement with God. Amen.

Last week I was struck by the number of similarities between last week’s gospel and this week’s account of the Transfiguration. In both instances Jesus has been pressed in upon by people demanding his attention, seeking healing or simply desiring to be in his presence. After both occasions Jesus withdraws to a mountain to gather his strength and to reconnect with God. After the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus wakes early in the morning and goes to a “deserted place” by himself to pray. He gets little peace, because Peter and his companions seek him out. (The Greek is even stronger – it reads “hunted him”). “Everyone is seeking you”, they say. It seems that those who have experienced his ministry and his healing power do not want to let him go. They try to draw him back, to keep him to themselves. That is not possible. Jesus informs them that he doesn’t belong to them or even to their small part of the world. His role, as he understands it, is to spread his teaching to as broad a group of people as possible. His ability to heal, belongs not to a few, but to all the world. He had not come into the world to be a local miracle worker. His mission could not be restricted nor could his healing power be owned by just a few.

There are differences and similarities between this account and today’s account of the Transfiguration. Again, the crowds, recognising what Jesus can offer, have allowed him little respite. “They have been with me three days” – three days with no time to himself, no time to think! Jesus’ personal resources must have been stretched to the limit. He has fed five thousand people with seven loaves and some small fish, he has returned sight to the blind, argued with the Pharisees and had the emotionally draining experience of trying to share with the disciples what the future has in store for him. (A task made even more difficult by Peter’s refusal to understand.) As in the first chapter, Jesus’ response to the pressure is to take time apart, to go to a place where he is unlikely to be disturbed, a place in the wilderness where he can take stock and allow God to minister to him and to restore him to himself. On this occasion Jesus does not go alone. He takes with him his closest friends, those who will share the most intimate parts of his journey – Peter, James and John. In doing this, he exposes them to the nature of his relationship with God and gives them a glimpse into who he really is.

This moment is more dramatic than his quiet prayer in the wilderness. On this occasion his experience of the presence of God is not only tangible, it is transformative. Before the disciples’ eyes, Jesus is physically transfigured – his clothes become dazzling white. Even more amazing, the disciples witness Jesus speaking with those giants of the Israelties’ faith – Moses and Elijah. On this occasion too, Peter wants to hold on to the moment. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Peter and his companions want to keep Jesus to themselves. Now, on the mountain, Peter seeks to capture and contain the experience, to hold on to the moment, he does not want to let go of such a tangible, affirming encounter with the holy. “Let us make three tents” he says. Just as he did not want Jesus to leave his home town, so now he doesn’t want this amazing encounter to come to an end.

One can imagine that Jesus might have been tempted to stay, to take the easy way out, to abdicate his responsibilities, to avoid the demands of the crowds and to evade the eventual consequences of his mission. But the whole point of his being here, the purpose of the incarnation is that he share in the full human experience. So while he takes time apart to replenish his resources and while his intimacy with God is such that he like Peter might have wanted to rest in it forever, Jesus plunges back into the messiness of human existence – (to be greeted at the foot of the mountain, by yet another situation that demands his full d undivided attention, a situation, which Jesus informs us can only be dealt with because his life is sustained by his relationship with God – by prayer.)

In the wilderness and on the mountaintop, Jesus spends time with God. Here he allows God to fill him, here he ensures that he has the strength and resources that are required to meet the demands that will be made upon him, he he gives God the opportunity to strengthen him to face any of the difficulties that he might face in his life’s journey. Empowered by God he can face anything and do anything. It is God’s presence in and with him that gives Jesus the ability to share the good news of the Kingdom, to heal the sick and cast out demons.

If our lives are to be informed by and empowered by God, we too must find time to be with God, we must discover our own place apart, allow God to restore and heal us, give God room to work in and through us.

With Jesus, we must learn that our busyness and our engagement with the world must be fueled by the presence of God and that the presence of God in our lives will in turn send us back into the world to be a sign of God’s presence in the chaos and turmoil of what it means to be human. In the end, we cannot do it alone, but only in the power of God

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