Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Suffering that leads to glory . . .

     Continuing Mark’s rapid-fire accounts of Jesus’ ministry, we find ourselves in yet another amazing scene this week. To be sure, we have skipped 8 chapters ahead, so the miracle of the Transfiguration is technically out of sequence as we read the book this year. It is, however, the absolutely correct time for us to read the story as we proceed through the liturgical seasons. In many ways, the Transfiguration serves as a “Cliff Notes” or “Spoiler Alert” for what is about to occur in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry.

     As we have noticed in the Gospel of Mark so far, time has very little meeting. Mark seems far more concerned with getting the reader to the events of Holy Week and Easter than he does in sharing details like Luke or Matthew. Much of his timing centers around words like “immediately” or “and then.” This miracle is unique in that there is a time specified. Six days after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the messiah, the events of the transfiguration occur. Why?

     We might be tempted to watch the scene play out in our minds. Mark’s description is amazingly visual. Jesus and three Apostles head up the high mountain. In front of those Apostles, Jesus was Transfigured. Mark recounts that His clothes were made a dazzling white, “such as no one on earth could bleach them.” As Jesus’ clothes are made white, Moses and Elijah appear. And the same Peter who testified that Jesus was the Christ only six days earlier, asks Jesus for permission to make three tents. Mark tells us that Peter’s offer comes out of fear and out of not knowing what else to say. Then the cloud overshadows them, and the voice thunders from that cloud. What has been entirely visual up until this point becomes an audible teaching. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to Him!” Just as quickly as it all started, it is over. Just like that, Jesus and the Apostles are alone. And our Lord commands them to keep silent about the events on the mountain until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.

     The message of the Transfiguration is important in a post Christian world. Far too often the message that the unchurched or even the churched hear on the radio or see on the television is the promise of fortune and wealth and health and absolute bliss for those who choose to follow our Lord Christ. To be sure, we are promised that one day will experience the fulfillment of all of God’s blessings. There will be a time in the future when crying and sighing and suffering are no longer present. For the Apostles and for us, the Transfiguration serves as a reminder that there is much work to be done and much suffering to be experienced before that time. Before the events of Holy Week and the Crucifixion, the Apostles and us get a quick glimpse into the future. Is Jesus truly the messiah? To be sure. Is He truly the Son of God? Absolutely. But greatness is defined by God through faithfulness and obedience to Him even in the face of terrible suffering.

     Like us, the Apostles will make mistakes in the verses and chapters that lie ahead. Far too often they will want to skip to the end time blessing and wield the same power over demons, to sit at His right hand and His left, and simply to be rewarded for choosing to follow Him. They will look at His life and His ministry through worldly terms rather than His terms. The Transfiguration reminds them and us that all the suffering they and we are about to experience will be redeemed, that every cross born in His name and to His glory will result in that same glorification, . . .  in the end. For now, it is our job to head back down the mountain and serve the needy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and die to our selves, that one day we might be inheritors of God’s blessings and raised to the blessed life promised in the Transfiguration, the Sacrament, and the Resurrection!


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