Summary: The disciples both see and hear an affirmation of who Jesus truly is, and it changes their lives.
Luke 9:28-45 “True Identity”
One of the most frustrating occurrences, for a parent, is when their child or children use selective listening. I’m sure that most of us have experienced this, and probably all of us have used the technique at some point in our lives. Selective listening is not hearing what you don’t want to hear—statements like “Take out the trash,” “Pick up your clothes,” “It’s time to turn off the television, or stop playing the video game.”
The disciples practiced selective listening with Jesus. If he said something that they didn’t want to hear, they simply ignored it, or didn’t try to understand it. Again, all of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ practice selective listening in our relationship with Jesus.
In the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, Jesus’ identity is affirmed by God the Father, and the disciples are told to stop their selective listening. “Listen to him,” the Father commands.
AFFIRMATION AND COMMAND
Jesus climbs the mountain in order to pray. He takes three of the disciples, Peter, James and John. Luke is the only gospel writer who knows that Jesus ascended the mountain in order to pray. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus prays at significant times in his ministry. Wondrous things happen when Jesus prays.
Many scholars have questioned why the story of the Jesus’ transfiguration is included in the gospels. The transfiguration is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry. From the time he heads back down the mountain, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem. Before this journey to the cross began, Jesus’ needed to have his relationship with God the Father affirmed. The disciples also needed to realize beyond a shadow of a doubt who Jesus was.
Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah, who are two great men of faith, about his departure—his journey to Jerusalem and his crucifixion. Jesus needed to have the support of people in the faith, as he began his journey. He needed advice and encouragement.
The disciples, through Jesus’ glowing continence, shining clothes and the voice of God, realized that Jesus really was the Messiah. Jesus was the one who was going to bring in the kingdom of God. The disciples understood that Jesus was more than a great teacher, or even a prophet. Jesus truly was the Son of God and God’s Chosen One. The confirmation of Jesus’ Messiahship, helped the disciples limit their selective listening and to pay attention to the words of Jesus.
Jesus’ words are sometimes hard to hear. We are used to hearing the words of Scripture that are comforting, strengthening—words that inspire hope and courage. We love to hear that “we are remarkably made,” that “All things work together for the good,” and that “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” Jesus, however, doesn’t limit his conversation to words of love and hope.
In the chapter before the transfiguration story, Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to follow him they needed to take up their crosses, deny themselves and follow him. The disciples didn’t want to hear these words. When God the Father, speaks on the Mount of Transfiguration and commands the disciples to listen to Jesus, these are probably the words to which the Father was referring.
We want the abundant life—one that is full of meaning and purpose. We’d like to hear that the abundant life consists of abundant blessings, affluence, and comfort. This is not the case, however. The abundant life—the life of a disciple of Jesus, consists of service, sacrifice, and self-denial. Certainly, this version of the abundant life doesn’t sell very well in the United States.
INTO THE VALLEY
With his identity and destiny affirmed, Jesus heads down the mountain into the valley. His disciples listen to every word he utters.
Immediately upon his return he is confronted with the demonic. The final battle has begun.
In addition, Jesus sees that the people have no faith. They are so entrapped in their physical lives that they cannot look beyond themselves and find hope in God the Father, or in God incarnate—Jesus. They expect nothing from Jesus. Even Jesus’ disciples, who just a short time before had accomplished all of the miracles — casting out demons and healing the sick— which Jesus had performed in his ministry, were powerless.
It is into this milieu that Jesus steps. He doesn’t hesitate. He understands that this is what he is about. As Jesus heads toward Jerusalem and the cross, he continues to demonstrate what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and live an abundant life.
Like Jesus, we too need to go up to the mountain to pray. On that mountain we need to have our true identity confirmed—to be reminded that we are God’s loved children, who at our baptism have taken up the cross of Christ. And, like Jesus, we step off the mountain and enter a world that has its share of evil and of faithlessness. It is here, in this world, where we have been called to live abundantly, lovingly, and boldly. Amen