One day Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to the top of a mountain. As they were watching him, Jesus was suddenly changed before them. They saw him in a different light. The Bible says, “he was transfigured before them” (Mt. 17.2). Then they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.
My guess is that at this point, the three disciples were thinking that they had reached the pinnacle, the high point of their journey with Jesus. When they first started following him, they did not know much about Jesus. They heard him teach. Saw him perform miracles. They helped him feed thousands from a few scraps. Now, on top of the mountain, they see him changed before their very eyes and talking to two of the greatest prophets. What more could there be? Surely this is where all their journeys have been leading.
It’s then that Peter, ever the spokesperson of the group, steps forward and says, “Lord, this is great and a great place to be. We need to commemorate this event with some buildings!” Matthew doesn’t say this, but in my mind, I can hear James and John chime in, “Yes, we can organize a capital campaign. Set up a designated amount to give if you want your name on a plaque. This is great!”
As the three disciples are splitting up the responsibilities of chairing the building committee, capital campaign, and communications team; they are knocked to the ground by a cloud and a voice. The voice speaks words similar to those spoken at the baptism of Jesus: “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Only this time there is added the phrase, “Listen to him!”
So Jesus comes over to the disciples, puts his hands on them and says, “Get up and don’t be afraid.” They did not know that even greater things were waiting for them. They did not know about the heartache they would suffer at the death of Jesus or the joy they would experience at the resurrection. This mountain top experience, great as it was, was not the pinnacle experience of their journey with Jesus, for that they had to get up and keep going.
As easy as it is sometimes to read this story and poke fun at Peter for impulsively speaking and wanting to throw up some commemorative structures, or to wonder how all three disciples could wind up on the ground in fear at the sound of the voice from heaven, let’s also be sure to give them their due credit, they got up and walked back down with Jesus. They did listen to him.
Right now, I find myself needing to really hear those words of Jesus, “Get up and do not be afraid.” There is a part of me, a large part of me to be honest, that would like to run to the mountain and hide out in a tent with Jesus. I find myself at times wanting to lay down on the ground and cover my face, not at the blinding radiance of Jesus or the booming voice from heaven, but because of the hate and anger and division that seem to be so loud and clouding our world at the moment. This is what makes me want to lay down and cover my eyes. As I write this, a close family member lies on her bed near death. I want to cover my eyes, crawl into my sanctuary and hide out with Jesus. I want to go back to one of those spaces where I heard God speak with the clarity of thunder rolling through the mountains, where I saw the path ahead as clearly as a bright light shining like the sun on a clear day.
Yet Jesus comes over and places his hand on me. He does not chastise me for lack of faith or scold me for wanting to give into to fear. With his hand on me, he utters the words, “Get up and do not be afraid.” In his touch and invitation comes the strength to rise and move on. Thanks be to God.