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Immediately before the account of his transfiguration on the mountain, which we read in Mark’s gospel this Sunday, Jesus and his disciples go up north to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, a major gentile city of the day. Mount Hermon, the great snow capped mountain that’s the principal water source for the Lake of Galilee and the Jordan River dominates that region. In bible, mountains are places close to God, where God reveals himself.
So here Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Some say you’re Elijah, John the Baptist come back from the dead, the disciples say. “Who do you say I am?” he said. “You are the Messiah,” Peter replied.
But as Jesus goes on to tell them he’s going to “suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and rise after three days,” Peter stops him. No, that’s not going to happen to you. That’s not the Messiah I mean. Jesus turns to him and says “Get behind me Satan, you are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.”
‘You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.” Mark’s gospel, more than the others, insists that despite his teaching and the wonders Jesus works, his own disciples whom you would expect would know him best, don’t understand him that well. They think as human beings do. Of course we do too.
And so Jesus takes them up the mountain and is temporarily transfigured before them. It’s a temporary experience. A brief encounter. His clothes become a dazzling white. The great traditional figures of Moses and Elijah appear; a terrifying cloud overshadows them, a voice says “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” That’s the way the gospels describe it.
The disciples want more. Peter wants to set up tents so they can stay there. But then it’s over. They only have a glimpse of the One who walks with them. After they come down from the mountain they still don’t understand him.
But, still, they follow him.
The mystery of the transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that God periodically reveals himself to us. Periodically,we have intimations, glimpses of God. We can’t create that experience on our own. God makes himself known. In St. Luke’s account of the transfiguration, he seems to indicate that prayer is one way to enter God’s presence.
And so we do all we can, we wait for him like the disciples, but we’re absorbed in our human thinking. “Thinking like human beings.”
The mystery of the transfiguration also offers the promise of something that awaits us, something that is permanent, and not temporary. “Follow me.” Jesus says. We try to get ready for him. God will come, but here in this life he comes when he wills. We wait, we watch, we listen. Jesus saysa Kingdom is coming, where the limitation of human thoughts and actions passes away and our waiting is ended and we shall see God face to face, not for a time but for eternity.
“This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”
The first reading for today is from the Book of Genesis. It begins “God put Abraham to the test.” He’s tempted. He takes his only son up a mountain to kill him. What a test that is to our human way of thinking. His only son, his beloved son. Everything he put his hopes in.
For Abraham this was the greatest temptation he or anyone could face. Everything’s lost; nothing more to live for. But God tells him he’s not lost everything. No, he hasn’t. Go beyond your human thinking. God is for us, not against us.