Trans-Figuration of the Lord

Matthew 17:1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Petimg_1625er and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

“Six days later,” our story begins.

“Six days later.”

If this were a novel, the prologue would go something like this: Jesus has been sparring with the Pharisees and Saduccees, the religious elites of his own native Judaism. They’ve heard wind that he might be a prophet. They want to see for themselves.

And Jesus does his usual thing, of telling them exactly what they already know and exactly what they don’t want to hear and generally mystifying everyone.

But then Jesus leaves, walking with his friends. And in a quiet moment, along a a dirt-packed road that’s been walked by a thousand-thousand feet, he asks his friend:

“Who am I?”

And his friend Simon says that he knows that Jesus is the Messiah, and for a moment, Jesus seems to be ecstatic – “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! On YOU I will build my church!”

Jesus even gives him a new name – Peter – because at last, Peter gets it. Peter has seen what is happening before him in his friend Jesus, the changes and the shifts and the coming danger.

And as soon as Peter is called the rock, Jesus talks about the darkness that is coming. That a time is coming when he is going to suffer.

And Peter, the rock of the church, tells Jesus to shut up. 

Six days later, Jesus takes Simon-now-Peter, and James, and John, up a mountain. They’re alone now, just close friends. Maybe Jesus will try again, will ask –

“Who am I to you?”

It is, frankly, a strange story. A kind of uncomfortable story. Jesus brings his closest friends up a high hill and is transformed into dazzling, bright light, and a few prophets who have been dead for a long time show up for a chat.

And Peter, in all the dazzle and confusion says: “Let’s stay here!”

A beloved preacher friend of mine once said that this was Peter wanting to stay on the mountaintop of faith – wanting to remain where God was near, and visible, and equal parts mystery and intimacy. Where the questions didn’t constantly crawl under his skin, reminding him that this might just be in his head. When the sufferings and sorrows were brushed off his shoulders, airy and un-burdensome.

Peter doesn’t want to go back down to face all that darkness Jesus has been talking about. The brooding of Jerusalem, the coming of the storm.

I think this is all true.

But in light of current events, I’ve been reading this story a little differently of late. It’s a particularly cruel torture, here in North Carolina – but certainly not confined to our state – that when people whose gender identity troubles the status quo, they are called perverts.

It’s the classic insult; I remember in the sixth grade when some boy started a rumor I was gay. It wasn’t the gayness that bothered me so much (for obvious reasons) as it was that this was meant to label me as some freak, some deviant whose core nature was sick. Perverted.

Pervert. It’s an old insult, and at its core it fundamentally says: you can’t be human because any relationship you have is twisted. You can’t live in our world, you can’t share the connection we need to be people, to be God’s vision for the Body of Christ.

Laverne Cox put it like this: “When trans people can’t access public bathrooms we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access health-care facilities — it’s about us existing in public space.” To deny someone the very basic right to pee in peace is to say: you don’t deserve to be here.

The nastiness stings more when someone has been trying to reveal their truth – to themselves, to their family, to their friends. When they are tired of living a lie or realize that it never was a lie, it just wasn’t the whole story.

To say: I am not who you thought, world, but this is who I really am – this takes perhaps the most courage demanded of us. It’s equal parts vulnerability and zeal. It’s uncomfortable.

Jesus has been trying, desperately, to reveal his true heart to his friends. His true nature – full human, full God – his identity. Jesus isn’t the prophet so many think him to be, and he’s not the Messiah who will vanquish death with shedding the blood of the Roman Empire. Peter got it – for a moment.

For a glorious moment, Peter saw Jesus – but as soon as Jesus began to talk about what might happen to the Messiah God sent instead of the Messiah Peter envisioned, he wanted Jesus to stop talking.

Jesus isn’t the man they think he is; he isn’t even really a man. Jesus is human, yes, but Jesus is also God.

And there, on that high mountain with a few friends and a few ancestors to bring their light –

Jesus is transfigured.

Jesus is transformed.

Jesus transitions from what Peter and James and John thought they knew, to the fullness of who Jesus is. 

And when Jesus, dazzling in all the light of truth and complexity, shining in the liminal space between human and God and being both together – when Jesus stands in the gap between the binaries we know and knew, God says:

“This is my child, with whom I well pleased.”

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