Meditation on Matthew 17:1–9
Pastor Karen Crawford
Read by Elder Dulcie McLeod
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
Feb. 19, 2023
Audio of Pastor Karen Sharing Her Message:
The disciples who go with Jesus up Mt. Tabor in Galilee are very human. I think Jesus has chosen 3 fishermen—ordinary people—on purpose. What do they know about mountain climbing? They would have been physically strong because of the demanding life of a First Century fisherman in the Sea of Galilee. For that matter, what does Jesus know about mountain climbing? But God the Father often draws him up to the hills to pray, as the psalmist does. Mountains are places of refuge and safety, and, from the time of Moses and Elijah, a place to meet and commune with God and leave the world behind.
The disciples have no idea what is going to happen on the mountain; we can tell this by their reaction to the Holy Vision. They think they are going to be with Jesus and perhaps are a little prideful. Jesus has chosen them, after all! They must feel special.
Then again, maybe they were the only ones who said, “OK, we’ll go.”
Just before this passage, Jesus urges his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Ascending the mountain is an illustration of the disciples’ willingness to follow, wherever the journey leads them.
Our gospel writers tell us just how human the disciples are; they are terrified in the presence of the divine light. Jesus no longer appears like the one they had come to know and love. This passage reveals Christ’s true identity as God’s Beloved Son, his clothing and face shining with a light brighter than this world.
He IS fully human and fully God—coming down from heaven, for us and our salvation, as we say in the Nicene Creed. This is the New Covenant of the ancient faith—a covenant of grace!
Human beings would not and could not live in love with God and neighbor. We needed help to hear God‘s voice and follow in Christ’s self-giving ways. We had trouble listening—and still have trouble listening to Christ today.
This is one of the times when I am sure the disciples are wondering why they said yes to follow—and what it all will mean for their lives. They are frightened by the disembodied voice from the cloud that engulfs and disorients them. Can you imagine being in a cloud on a high mountain—and you can barely see your hand in front of your face?
This is no small thing.
Isn’t it funny how Peter, in his account of the Transfiguration in his letter, leaves out the part about his offering to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah? The voice from the bright cloud overshadows them while Peter is still speaking!
It was the human thing to do. “I can fix this, Jesus! Let me use my gifts and talents!”
What can we say with all certainty about this mysterious passage, about which the Church has wondered for thousands of years? This scene in Scripture has long inspired artists, including iconographers. This story has been remembered by the Church and retold with awe from generation to generation. It gives us HOPE.
This passage sheds a little light on what it means to be the people of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. We are called to be fully reliant on the Lord—to listen and follow the Son, every day. This isn’t a punitive thing! God isn’t mad at us!
When the disciples fall to the ground in fear, Jesus says with compassion, “Get up! Don’t be afraid.” The Lord welcomes all to come boldly to him, even Peter, who doesn’t always get it right. The disciples are warned not to tell anyone what they have heard and seen. Not yet. They cannot fully grasp what happened—and who Christ is. They won’t begin to understand until he is crucified and risen.
They are learning to wait on the Lord.
Jesus tells them not to tell the others—or anyone. I suspect that he wants to avoid jealousy and division. And, sometimes, we don’t have the words to express the things of God. It’s better not to reduce a divine vision to human terms.
Don’t you wonder if they are able to keep that secret from the other disciples? How do they explain where they have been? They must have stunned expressions on their faces.
As they descend the mountain, they can’t unsee what they saw. They have a Holy Mountain Vision that connects them with each other and Christ and will forever change them in ways they cannot predict. This vision strengthens those who are very human to persevere through the journey and suffering ahead.
Like the disciples long ago, we are very human. We don’t always see God’s will clearly. The Spirit reveals things to us in part, day by day, when we seek God with an open heart. God reveals what the Lord wants us to know, in God’s time. We have to accept that—that we will not always see the whole story. And that God’s grace is sufficient.
My surgery was a month ago. I have been focused on my recovery—emphasis on MY– and preparing for the Season of Lent, which begins in a just a few days. I have been pouring my heart, mind, body, and soul into ministry—maybe trying to make up for lost time. I am sharing this with you because I have a feeling that others in my church family do the same thing.
We make plans, with good intentions. We do our best to imperfectly follow the Lord every day. We truly love the Lord and the Church. We push on, persevere, trying to be faithful and do God’s work.
I didn’t expect to test positive for COVID yesterday! That threw an ax in MY plans—for this weekend and possibly this week. Emphasis, again, is on the MY.
I am learning from the Lord that sometimes God wants us to do NOTHING. Just wait and pray. I have learned how I am not patient with my own limitations. And that I don’t take everything to the Lord in prayer immediately. I like to carry my own burden for a while and have trouble releasing it, rather than how we are encouraged to pray for everything in that wonderful old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
And, though I am good at giving advice to those who are sick, recovering from surgery or grieving the loss of a loved one, I am not always good at taking my own advice. I always tell people who ask why something is happening—whatever the trial is—that I don’t know what God is doing or preparing to do in their lives. We may never know why, and we may never understand God’s timing.
I always encourage people that whenever I get sick, I hear the Lord reassuring me of God’s love. I hear God saying that I should slow down, quiet the noisy thoughts and activities in my life, and receive God’s unconditional love with peace and joy.
Friends, not everything about the Christian life is DOING. It is BEING in and with the ONE who sees us all as God’s beloved, through the suffering work of the Son.
As we begin the Season of Lent on Wednesday, I hope you will be stirred to be still and know God, as the psalmist cries out. Imagine yourself in the Holy Mountain Vision that now we are free to share and indeed are encouraged to tell the world so that more people will come to know who JESUS really is. God’s Son, the Savior, our Lord.
Will you pray with me? Let us pray.
Loving and Gracious God, thank you for revealing this Holy Mountain Vision to the first disciples and to us, so that we would come to see your Beloved Son as more than merely human. Help us to listen for your voice and quiet the other voices and activities in our lives, especially during this Holy Season of Lent. Lead us to be still and know you are the Lord—the Holy One of Israel, the God of our salvation. Strengthen us to be patient as we wait on your healing, trust in your unconditional love, and enjoy your everlasting presence with us. In our Triune God we pray. Amen.