Today, Feb. 10th 2013, is Transfiguration Sunday, or the Feast of the Transfiguration.
It’s a well known story, and all three of the Synoptic Gospels recounts it almost exactly the same. Here’s Mark’s version:
Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John and led them alone up a high mountain privately. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiantly white, more so than any launderer in the world could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared before them along with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. So Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (For they were afraid, and he did not know what to say.) Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is my one dear Son. Listen to him!”Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more except Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8 NET)
Peter’s first reaction to seeing the glorified Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses was to build three tents for them; places where they could reside. This hearkens back to the tabernacle that the Israelites carried around in the desert with them, and which contained the Ark of the Covenant, and God’s glory. God the Father kaiboshes Peter’s idea, and instead affirms who Jesus is (“My Son,” or “My Chosen One”), and tells the disciples to listen to Him.
Mount Tabor is where historians think the Transfiguration took place, and ironically there are now two large churches on the site, a Catholic one and an Orthodox one right beside it.
“Listen to him”
But Peter’s reaction is not unique; I think all of us have a tendency to want to keep God at arms length, and in essence, to contain who He is (‘build a shelter for Him’), putting him in a box. Enshrining Him. This is largely subconscious, I’d wager. But God’s words to the three disciples are equally a commandment for us today – “Listen to him.”
The fact that Jesus doesn’t have any recorded words in this passage suggests to me that God wasn’t referring to any specific thing that Jesus said, but to everything that He said. And ‘listen’ doesn’t just mean ‘hear,’ of course, but to hear and do. Jesus essentially says this in John 14:23 – “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” And James affirms it – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
In the church today we have a tendency to focus on studying what the Bible teaches, what Jesus said and did, and what we as Christians are to do. There’s no shortage of new books coming out all the time on how to pray, how to evangelize, how to study the Bible, etc. But we’re woefully bad at actually doing these things. As Francis Chan has said, in the Great Commission we’ve focused on the “teaching the nations everything Jesus said” part, but not the “to obey” part. But it’s easy to hear. It’s difficult and costly to listen. But this is what God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (through the biblical writers) all call us to. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13).
So I think the lesson of the Transfiguration, at least for me and at least at this point in my life, is to pause, and prayerfully take stock of where I may have built shrines to Jesus’ commands instead of listening to Him about them. What teachings I honour or think are important, but don’t put into practice, making me a fool.
Today, may you take time to do the same.