January 29, 2023 A+D
St. Matthew 17:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We can understand hope it is that soldiers and priests and governors could disrespect and even physically abuse Christ, Our Lord, when He was in His state of humiliation. His hid His Divinity. As a Man He denied Himself and did not always or fully use His Divine attributes. He made Himself weak and ugly and was despised for it. But on the Mount of Transfiguration, His Divinity was not hidden. His face glowed from within. His clothing shone white as lightening. Moses and Elijah were there with Him, alive, witnessing to His power and Divinity and goodness. Peter, James, and John knew that He was God Almighty. When Moses face had shined on Sinai with reflected glory, men could not bear to look at him and he had to wear a veil. Even when holy angels appear unto men, the men are afraid. But the disciples were not afraid in the presence of this glory and Peter even dared to interrupt Him and suggest a different course of action. This wasn’t because Peter was particularly bad, it was because the Son of Man comes to seek and to save the lost. He does not wield power in the ways of men. For the time being, His grace is subject to abuse. He does not force Himself upon us. His glory is His mercy and His desire is intimacy.
Peter behaves badly. He is responding to the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. We know from Luke what they are talking about. They are talking about the Lord’s exodus from this world.
Six days earlier, Peter had made his great confession. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus began to show them that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. And then Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for this. He said, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” Then Jesus said to Peter “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Then Jesus told all the disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Peter repents and off they go. At the time of the transfiguration, they are on their way to Jerusalem for this very thing. Then Jesus takes Peter, James, and John and gives them a glimpse of His glory. He allows them to see and listen to Moses and Elijah.
And in the midst of this, once again, Peter thinks there is a better way. He interrupts. He tells them they don’t need to go to Jerusalem at all. He knows what is good, not that, not crosses, not suffering, not atoning for the sins of the world and opening heaven to all believers, but them just staying there. It is nice there. It is safe. There is no striking, smiting, or afflicting. Their no wailing or dying. And he, handy guy that he is, will make them each a little shelter.
Now just imagine that your boss calls you down to your office one day and tells you to have a seat. You look around and there is the head of Seal Team Six and Delta Force and the British SAS and they are talking about the best way to infiltrate an enemy line and you interrupt them to tell them that they’re going about it all wrong but you can straighten them out based on a movie you saw. Is that a dumb example? Fine. Make up your own. Think of experts whom you admire in areas where you are not an expert, men who wield the power of presidents and generals and elite athletes. How would you behave if you were allowed to listen to them talk about their profession? You would not act like Peter. What he does is crazy. And he does this not simply with humans or prophets back from the dead or with holy angels but with God Himself. The Glory of Jesus is shining. They see it and know that He is God. When Moses had a mere reflection of this glory on His face after coming down from Sinai, the people couldn’t look at him. He had to put on a veil. But in the presence of God Incarnate, Peter is unafraid and acts the fool.
The Father intervenes. He interrupts the interruption. If we were to translate His rebuke, “this is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him” into colloquial English, we would say “Shut up! This is My Beloved Son, not you. Who do you think you are? I am well-pleased with Him. I like what He is saying. He makes sense. He is respectful and obedient. This is the fulfillment of all the wisdom of the prophets, of everything the angels have waited for, the consolation of Israel. You are an uppity know-it-all who knows nothing and talks when he should listen.”
Peter, James, and John weren’t afraid of the Divinity that transfigured Jesus, but they were afraid of that Cloud and Voice. And then, of course, Jesus reached out in mercy and compassion. He touched them. He told them to rise. They had eyes for no one but Jesus and they followed Him down the mountain and to Jerusalem.
They still had to keep learning this lesson, but for a bit, at least, they got it. At least until the flesh reared up again and they had to be brought back by cock’s crowing and a visit from Jesus in the Upper Room.
But here is the deal with the transfiguration. It shows us more about Jesus than it does about Peter. Peter’s faith was not yet full. He acts like a child, a bit selfish, unaware, but bold, confident in His Father’s house, among His Father’s things. When he gets a bit too bold, goes a bit too far, he gets his hand slapped, like a child playing with his father who calls his father a teasing name that is disrespectful. Jesus allows Peter to push the envelope, to find the edges. He doesn’t endorse irreverence. Peter isn’t His equal, but that is not for lack of affection. The Lord Jesus Christ is patient and kind, gentle and persistent, powerful yet fully aware. He comes to seek and to save at the cost of His own life. Peter is His child. You are His child. Your hand has been slapped a time or two. The Law has called tears out of you. But you are His child. His glory is His mercy. His desire is intimacy. Listen to Him.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.