The more I read Luke’s version of the Transfiguration, the more I’m wondering about the reactions to this text, both within my own being as well as from what I read and hear in sermons and sermon resources. This came to light especially this morning as I read a reflection on Matthew’s version of this passage that was posted on the Christian Century website back when it came up in late February of this year. Jason Micheli’s piece, entitled “What preachers get wrong and Peter gets right about the Transfiguration” noted that no where does Jesus or God rebuke Peter for his desire to build some booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. As I read the article, and as I’ve re-read the passage this morning, I’ve noticed that Peter’s question isn’t the only part of this story that stirs up negative reactions in me, and has me wondering why?
Now, to be fair, some of these negative feelings come from the conflation of all these stories into one meta-narrative in my mind. Luke’s version of the larger narrative arc doesn’t include Peter’s rebuke of Jesus’ first passion prediction eight (or six, depending, it doesn’t really matter) days earlier. In fact, the way the story gets broken out, at least on the Lectionary Page, doesn’t even include the eight day reference. Still, it is there, and so when I see that Jesus chose to take Peter along with James and John, my initial thought is, “what does Jesus have up his sleeve here?”
Then, there is the usual visceral reaction to good old quick-to-speak-slow-to-think Peter who blurts out in his mix of fear, bewilderment, and exhaustion, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings…” Here too, the text gives us some reason to think that Peter’s words are silly. Luke notes, as other do as well, that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. Yet, why do we just assume that this reaction is dumb? Couldn’t it be possible, as Micheli suggests, that staying on the mountain to worship the glory of God present fully in Jesus the Son, is a perfectly reasonable reaction to the Transfiguration? Isn’t all of life a call to worship? To see the beauty of God’s handiwork in creation? To give thanks for the grace of God made flesh in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son? To make room for the Spirit at work within us on an ongoing basis? Why do we assume Peter’s reaction to be stupid?
It happened to me a third time today, as I read the words of God from the cloud to be a rebuke rather than a loving affirmation. Is the command to listen to the Chosen Son born out of frustration on God’s part that disciples hadn’t been listening, or a loving word that says, “If you listen, this world could be a much better place. If you take heed, the Kingdom of God is actually quite near”? Sure, the disciples often misunderstand what Jesus is trying to say and do, but don’t we all? Are we, or maybe better, am I so quick to judge the disciples for the slowness in understanding because I think I know better? My negative reaction to various characters in the text betray that I do not. Instead, perhaps I would do well to slow down and listen.