Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire.
It’s a great story. It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil. Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.
According to our Scripture-scholar friend William Barclay, this story is another of the great hinges in Jesus’ life on earth—and we’ll see why. He was just about to set out for Jerusalem, setting his face toward the cross.
The story is cloaked in mystery. We can only try to understand. We usually associate this event with Mount Tabor, which is in the south of Galilee. However, Luke tells us this event happened eight days after events in Caesarea Philippi which is in the north. Not on that, Tabor is only about 1,000 feet high, and in the time of Jesus, Barclay indicates there was a fortress on top. It’s much more likely that this event took place amidst the eternal snows of Mount Hermon which is 9,200 high and much nearer Caesarea Philippi. (The image above is from a Flicker photo of Mount Hermon taken in 2009.
Jesus took his favorite disciples, Peter, James and John up on the mountain to pray. On the mountain top, Moses and Elijah appeared to him. Moses was the great lawgiver of the people of Israel; Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. It was as if the princes of Israel’s life and thought and religion were affirming Jesus to go on.
There’s a vivid sentence here about the three apostles . . . .
“When they were fully awake they saw his glory.”
In life we miss so much because our minds are often asleep.
~ There are many of us who are so wrapped up in our own ideas that our minds are shut. “Someone may be knockin’ at the door” but we’re often like sleepers who will not awake.
~ There are others of us who refuse think about anything. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” How many of us have thought things out and thought them through?
~ We can drug ourselves mentally against any disturbing thought until we are sound asleep that Big Brother can taken over. Ever seen the “Matrix?”
But life is full of things designed to awaken us.
~ There is sorrow. Often sorrow can rudely awaken us, but in a moment, through the tears, we will see the glory.
~ There is love. Barclay references a poem by Robert Browning telling of two people who fell in love: She looked at him; he looked at her—“and suddenly life awoke.”
I remember a similar experience in reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain for the second time several years ago. When I finished it I found myself immersed in joyous tears for weeks on end—filled with love for Jesus that this young monk and elicited in me. This Lent, I’m trying to re-enable that experience.
~ There is a sense of need. It’s easy enough to live the routine life half asleep; then all of a sudden there comes some completely insoluble problem, some unanswerable question, some overwhelming temptation, some summons to an effort that we feel is beyond our strength. And that sense of need can awaken us to God.
We would do well to pray, “Lord, keep me always awake to you.”
Source: William Barclay /Gospel of Luke pages 147-8.
But here’s a couple of other observations from the February 2016 issue of the Magnificat liturgical magazine:
After the disciples witnessed Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah, this appears in the text . . . .
While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. (Lk. 9:34)
The overshadowing of the divine Spirit does not darken, according to Saint Ambrose, but reveals secret things to the hearts of people. It is the luminous cloud the soaks us from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith sent by the voice of the almighty God.
He’s talking about mystical experience that arise from deep prayer or centering prayer sometimes or even just experiencing an amazing sunset or an exhilarating conversation with a friend.
Anyway, what a gorgeous sentence that is “a luminous cloud that soaks us / from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith” . . . Wow! Think on that one.
Immediately following, we here from the cloud a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
It is a call to heed Jesus’ teaching about his Passion and our need to take up our cross and follow him: Jesus is he Messiah who suffers.
“After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent” . . . .
Their silence was a mark of awe. As it was on the last day of Jesus’ life, when he said, “It is finished.”
You may never had a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had. Even one mountain top experience — one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.
Any close encounter with God can be life-changing.
As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come. When they come, embrace them. Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do. Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.
And now before you go, here is the Eucharistic hymn sung by a young boy and a mass choir~ Ave Verum Corpus. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass Readings. Click here
Acknowledgements: William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY / 1975, 2001
Magnificat.com / Yonkers, NY