I think about “Rocky Mountain High” when I think of retreat. People who have an intentional life of faith sometimes go on a retreat to the beach or mountains and set aside time for prayer which can be a good experience. But eventually we have to come back to earth. We are meant to walk this earth announcing in word and deed that God is relevant. That is at the heart of Jesus’ nature. “God so loved the world…” is not just a catch phrase at a sports game but a way of life.
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus (Matthew 17:16).
took with him – – It is not enough for the believer to white-knuckle themselves by willpower to their retreat or in any Christian growth experience. The grace of God comes first always whether it is clear to us or not.
There he was transfigured before them- Much fanfare is given in light of the spectacular descriptions here. Pope Benedict VI makes a point that in a way this was the moment in Jesus’s earthly life where he ironically was not transfigured but was his normal self and thus meaning his glory was hidden otherwise.
Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus- – In God’s involvement on the earth before, during and after the events of the gospels there are adornments in person or things that confirm what God has done or is doing. In a parallel passage on the same event there is more detail here where it is pointed out how they “appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).
The wording in the original Greek is literally what the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses for the exodus of Moses. The word meant “the way out” of Egypt but here it is a heavenly direction. “What he was going to accomplish” is about the work of redemption on the cross.
Lord, it is good for us to be here- – God really does not need our good ideas. And we do no favors to ourselves when we emphasize a geographical location due to what the think it is intrinsically to be. Such are the thoughts that we can have when we are unsettled and absent God’s peace.
I will put up three shelters- – The following could be an imaginative translation of what he is getting at.
What an awesome experience! Let’s turn this into a new village! We’ll hang out, do a Torah study with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and Jesus will bring the wine. Sure, I’ve got a wife down the mountain and there are masses of people that want to get into this new kingdom thing (whatever that is) but let’s settle. Letting his excitement get ahead of him, Simon Peter puts Moses and Elijah on equal footing with Jesus. The Father loves them, but not like He loves Jesus.
Peter is centering on this experience to be the end all. The kingdom of God does go beyond earthly things and is across the generations and in part he is right to recognize that. But those are things and not a person. Christianity is based on the person of Jesus and his central work of being crucified and being raised from the dead. Days earlier the cross was a scandal in his mind. When Jesus was first announced by John the Baptist it was as the Lamb of God (which in Jewish tradition is sacrificed). If one does not get that and keep this truth engrained they will miss how sacrifice in the gospel and the Christian life is entwined. “Love without sacrifice is meaningless. Sacrifice without love is unendurable” (Dr. Scott Hahn).
a bright cloud covered them- – Through the Bible there is a theme of clouds as symbolic of covenant or community. Here it is both in the sense of God being a community of holy persons and that the establishment of The New Covenant is drawing near.
This is my Son, whom I love- – But with that overwhelming presence of God the Father, Simon Peter gets his perspective readjusted. But notice it is not, “Listen to my Son or I will smite thee.” The Father brings it back to love and repeats what He said at the baptism of John the Baptist. He is well pleased in Jesus. Jesus is enough. Jesus and the message of sonship for those in him does not change
Listen to him- – Where John the Baptist says “Behold” the model of ongoing conversion is “Listen”. That is a means by which faith comes (Romans 10:17).
they fell facedown to the ground, terrified- – At best they interpret the love going on as only to Jesus and the Father is fresh out of mercy. But the gospel shows us that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
But Jesus came and touched them.- – Coming to the end of ourselves and admitting we are powerless over our sin is a sobering experience. Wrong does not mean one is bad and deserving only punishment. So Love Incarnate steps in and does what He does: He pushes out that fear. But Jesus embodies perfect love and “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:17). Jesus will manifest his presence in some way for that if we let him. Where shame immobilizes us in a sort of spiritual shock, Jesus changes the story.
When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus- – The story comes to the full circle with Jesus being central.
When I was a Protestant, Peter was the comedy relief in a lot of sermons. Now with a passage like this, I have to laugh at myself. What goose bumps have I raised to the level of Jesus? Have I mistaken a definition for myself that is like being too spiritually minded for any earthly good? Where has Jesus called me down from my “Rocky Mountain High” and I have refused to come back to the simplicity of devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3)?
Again, Jesus does not change. But He does love us enough to call us to Himself in purity and practicality. Let’s cast off pretentious ideas, listening, and surrender to him.