Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage (Matthew 16:24-17:13) transports me to the scene where the disciples witness Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop. After traveling around with Jesus, witnessing and participating in his work and ministry I wonder what the disciples were thinking on their walk up the mountain. Were they trying to make sense of Jesus’ most recent message “for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it?” Was Peter, confused by his recent interactions with Jesus, replaying in his mind their conversations that ranged from Jesus telling Peter that he would be the foundation of the church to Jesus calling him Satan and telling him that his focus was on all the wrong things?
I suspect that the disciples were feeling some sense of relief, thinking that they were getting away from all the pressure and intensity, the cries for help and hope and healing that chased at their heels and seemed to jump out around every corner while they were with Jesus. I imagine a collective sigh of relief as they walked away from the city, up to the mountaintop. Finally, they were getting a brief respite, time away to regroup, rest, and relax.
However, rest and relaxation were not in the script for the disciples. This was no ordinary camping trip to the mountains with the guys. When they arrived at the top of the mountain, Jesus transfigured in front of them. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Suddenly, Moses and Elijah were there too. Forgetting his previous exchange with Jesus about who people were saying he really was, Peter jumped into action and offered to build dwelling places for Jesus, Elijah and Moses so that they could all remain right where they were, where things were extraordinary and full of light. Surely staying on the mountain together was better than the fate that awaited them all when they returned to the city.
I would venture to guess that you if asked most kids (and adults, for that matter) what comes to mind when they hear the word transfiguration, the first answer is probably not going to be this story from Matthew. For many, the most immediate association would be the magical art of transfiguration, taught in classes at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter book series. In Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, Professor Minerva McGonagall addresses her transfiguration class, “Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts. Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned.”
Harry and his friends learned (or tried to learn) how to transfigure hedgehogs into pincushions, buttons into beetles, and matches into needles. They learned the art of transfiguration in the (mostly) safe confines of McGonagall’s classroom at Hogwarts. Each simple transfiguration assignment progressively led to more challenging tasks, preparing the young students to face any number of dangers and difficulties in their efforts to win against the forces of dark magic.
Even though transfiguration was “some of the most complex and dangerous magic” the students needed it to survive. Learning this art was not easy. It took the students a great deal of practice and lots of mistakes to master even the most simple transfiguration assignments. Ultimately, what they most needed already existed within them, but many of them never quite discovered this for themselves.
The same was true for the disciples. They needed to witness the transfiguration of Jesus, but they failed to recognize that the light they needed was already within them. Jesus continued to instruct and prepare them. All that they needed was in front of them and within them, but they never fully got it.
I’m guessing the Hogwarts’ students would have preferred to remain within the safety of McGonagall’s classroom, practicing transfiguration on matches and hedgehogs and buttons, rather than attempting their skills in real situations, where their lives might depend on how well they performed what they learned in class.
It makes sense that Peter would want to make every effort to stay right where they were, offering to build dwelling places for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Why not remain in the place where they seemed safe? Why would the disciples want to return to the places where Jesus’ life would be at risk? Here on the mountaintop, they could be with Moses and Elijah and Jesus. Here they could be perpetually surrounded and held safely in the glowing light. We know how the rest of this story goes. The questions that remain for us – How will we respond when we are tempted to plant ourselves firmly where things are extraordinary and full of light? What will it take for us to recognize that we have already been given all that we need, that the light is already within us?
Missy Harris works part time at the Circle of Mercy congregation with the kids and youth, part time with InOurElements on a plastics project, volunteers with the Pastoral Care Department at Mission Hospital, is raising a 2 year old, is married to Firefighter David, serves on the board of directors at Jubilee Partners, and is working with M. Porter on a top secret linguistics project. (You are probably already under its influence and you don’t even know it.)