Lately, I’ve been troubled. I’ve been bothered with the way conversations devolve into closed ear, open mouth debates. I’ve been angered by what I see in the news. I’ve been disturbed by the way humans are treating other humans. To be honest, there have been some things happening in the world that make me downright mad.
I sometimes feel like things are rapidly devolving, as if humanity has its mind set on destruction. There are days when the present reality feels worse off than yesterday, no signs of progress to be found. I know that a brief brush through history will teach us that there is no such thing as the good old days. Through every generation there has been strife, scandal, and injustice. But for me knowing this hasn’t made living in the current reality any simpler.
I’d dare to guess that something in what I’ve just shared resonates with you. Maybe you’ve been bothered lately, too. Are you hurting? Tired? Overwhelmed? Me too.
Like you, I try my best to be a good Christian. We attempt to make choices that demonstrate the love we have for our neighbors. Daily, I consider whether the choices I make will respect the dignity of every human being. I take my baptism seriously and the promises that I made in the baptismal covenant guide and ground my life. I put my trust in God.
Still, I feel overwhelmed when it looks like all my efforts are for naught. It is difficult and yet all that much more important to persevere in proclaiming the good news of God’s love for all people when our world actively dehumanizes and devalues our neighbors. The Gospel lesson we heard this morning hints that maybe Jesus felt a bit overwhelmed too.
In the second half of the story Jesus, exasperated, says: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”
I have to admit that, because of the pain and disappointment that I’ve been feeling lately, Jesus’ words to the crowd resonated with me. We live in a world where hatred of those who are different from us continues to tighten its grasp. Jesus lived in the midst of this world as well. This present and seemingly eternal reality wears on my spirit and makes me proclaim with Jesus: how long?
Jesus’ words to the crowd might sound harsh when we imagine them coming out of the mouth of the divine. His accusation and question cut to the core. This behavior seems a bit out of character for a man whose primary vocation was to reveal the love, grace, and mercy of God. Our own ideas of who Jesus was tend to cause us to conflate love with kindness and gentleness. But love doesn’t always look nice and neat.
We must remember Jesus was fully God and fully human. He was a man who people struggled to truly listen to, of whom people had many demands, who also knew he would soon be executed. Just preceding the portion of the story we heard this morning, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon undergo great suffering and persecution, die and be resurrected. He explains what will take place and then he takes Peter, John, and James up on the mountain to pray.
Jesus’ transfiguration, the story at the beginning of the Gospel this morning, serves as a sort of hinge between Jesus’s ministry of teaching, healing, and miracles; and Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, death and resurrection.
On the mountain, Peter speaks to Jesus: “Master, it is good for us to be here.” This must have been true, after all, Jesus took them up on the mountain to pray in the first place. This seems like a goodthing to do.
It was good for Jesus and the disciples to set aside time to pray, to be in the presence of God, to be transfigured by the holy. Just as it is good for us to set aside time to pray, to be in the presence of God, and allow ourselves to be changed by the holy.
Yet, when Peter proclaims: “let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” the Gospel writer tells us that Peter did not know what he was saying.
Perhaps Peter was excited. Here they were, finally in a quiet place away from those needy crowds, isolated from the dehumanizing forces in the world, in the company of A-list biblical figures: God, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. What a treat. I can imagine Peter thinking: can’t we just stay here forever? They could avoid all those terrible things Jesus said would happen and instead build dwellings, settle down, live a comfortable life. Things could be good.
From time to time I feel this way too. What if I just went of the grid? Delete my social media accounts, stop listening to the news, stay in my cozy house in my cozy bed and everything will be okay.
This is the notion is that the Gospel writer was referring to when he said Peter knew not what he said. It seems Peter desired a different ending, one in which Jesus could continue to live here on earth without ever having to go to the cross. One where we don’t have to confront the brokenness of the world.
Up on the mountain the voice of God proclaimed: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Listen to his teachings, listen to what he says must transpire.
Jesus did not come to be glorified, to simply dwell among the holy. He came to reveal the heart of God to the people. Jesus came to earth to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom, the way of love and of peace. Jesus came to overturn our understanding of justice and order. To restore the dehumanized. A revelation that could not happen in private up on a mountaintop. It had to take place in public amongst the people. Jesus knows he cannot stay on the mountaintop and also fulfill the work he has begun; the work God has given him to do.
Likewise, we are not called to be Christians in the privacy of our own home or house of worship. Following Christ requires being in the world, but not of the world. Being a disciple of Jesus means acknowledging the pain and brokenness in our lives and imagining our way into healing and hope.
As Jesus and the disciples make their descent from the mountaintop at the beginning of their journey towards Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus is once again confronted by a crowd. When asked to heal a boy, as he has healed many others before, Jesus is exasperated.
Though he denounces them, Jesus remains present with the crowd. He heals the boy and the people are “astounded at the greatness of God.” Jesus’ ministry continues even as he knows the world is actively working to undermine his message.
Jesus continues to heal the broken. He loves the forsaken and restores the outcast. Jesus makes new that which humanity has cast aside. Each time he heals, teaches, or performs a miracle the people catch a glimpse of the God that loves, liberates, and gives life. They are astounded by the greatness of God.
We as followers of Jesus are called to this same work. In the face of a troubling world, we are a force for healing in our community. We love those the world says are unlovable. We serve as the hands of Christ restoring the outcast. We invite God to work through us to make all things new. Come join in this work and be astounded by the greatness of God.