This weekend’s Gospel reading is the Transfiguration story (Mark 9.2-9). Jesus goes up the mountain to pray with Peter, James and John and as he prays his appearance changes. Moses and Elijah then appear and Jesus has a conversation with them. Peter’s response to Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah is basically, “Let’s build three houses and stay on the mountain forever.”
Often when we read the Transfiguration, the common take-away is that this is a story about “mountain-top experiences” and how, when we have a significant experience of God or God’s presence, we want to remain in the experience forever and not come down from it. However, many scholars believe the Transfiguration story is much less about an amazing experience of the Disciples on a mountain, and much more about who Jesus is and what he is calling us to do.
In the previous chapter of Mark, Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say I am.” And, of course, Peter responds by saying, “You are the Messiah.” So, one way of looking at the Transfiguration is that it is God’s way of putting an exclamation point on Peter’s answer; that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah. And, not only is he revealed as the Messiah, but he immediately comes down the mountain and puts a second exclamation point on that revelation by immediately healing a boy with a demon.
I love the Transfiguration narrative because it invites us into a question today: Are we stuck at the top of the mountain still struggling to figure out exactly who Jesus is and what being the Messiah really means (like Peter, James and John) or are we at the bottom of the mountain doing what we can to heal the world; actually living into the transfiguration?
The word “transfigured” literally means “transformed into something more beautiful.” What are we doing to transform the world (like Jesus) into something more beautiful? Are we “Transfiguration people” healing the parts of our world that are suffering and broken?
About 15 years ago I had my own “transfiguration” experience. In 2002, I was working as a Pastoral Minister at St. Ambrose Cathedral in downtown Des Moines. And, even though I was working in ministry in a church, I knew I was being called to something more; I knew I was being called to do something to bring healing and wholeness to our broken world.
The previous year I had been introduced to a program called “JustFaith.” And, while I didn’t know much about the program, it appeared to be a program that could help me name how I was being called to respond to the needs of the world, so I agreed to facilitate it at my church.
The decision to participate in and facilitate the JustFaith program ended up being one of the best decisions I had ever made in my life. The JustFaith program “transfigured” my life. Week after week, I met with a small group of people – some of who are still my closest friends today – and together we went up the mountain with Jesus and discovered who he really is and how he is calling us to live, and week after week we came back down the mountain and supported each other in our effort to bring healing to others in some small way in our community and world.
The JustFaith program transformed me into something more beautiful; transformed me into a person who is compelled to do my part to change the world. May you also be transformed into something even more beautiful and use your own gifts to build bridges and heal the wounds of the world.
The “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog is written by Susie Tierney, Executive Director, of the Center for Social Ministry. Susie hopes the blog will encourage others to be “bridge-builders” in this politically divisive time, and will promote dialogue and common ground-thinking. To sign up to receive our “Building Bridges, Building Hope” blog click here.