Gospel: Luke 9:28b-36
Looking to the Future in a Rearview Mirror
What do people fear about the future? Why do they harbor such fears?
As much as we are focused on the present moment, we Americans like to peer into the future. To see visions of what can be, to dream about what is possible. To let go of the baggage from the past, to feel the freedom of tomorrow.
Of course, change means the instability of the unknown. So, we may no longer want to rush to the future. We may want to conserve what we have and what we understand.
The stress we feel in our culture is the tussle between the rocky rush to the future and the comfort the past gives. We might be pulled between the fresh and the stale. But, we stand between the uncertainty of the unknown and the certainty of the already known.
Peter and his partners followed Jesus up the mountain to pray. There, they experienced a vision that gave them a choice. What was to be vs. what they relied on.
28b Jesus took Peter, John, and James along as he climbed the mountain to pray. 29 During his prayer on the mountain, the face of Jesus changed into something never seen before. And his clothes became as white as a lightening flash. 30-31 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about his death, which would happen in Jerusalem. They appeared as bright as Jesus.
32 Now, Peter and his companions were really sleepy. But, then, they completely woke up! They saw the glory of Jesus and the two men standing with him. 33 As Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it's good for us to be here. Let's pitch three tents. One for you. One for Moses. And one for Elijah." But Peter didn't really know what he was talking about.
34 As Peter spoke, a cloud appeared and cast its shadow over them. They were really afraid when they entered the cloud. 35 Then, a voice called out from the cloud: "This is my Son, the one I chose. Listen to him." 36 After the voice spoke, they only found Jesus there.
The three followers grew very quiet. And, at that time, they didn't tell anyone what they had seen.
Peter, John, and James experienced the unexpected. Peter reached into his knowledge of the past to put the experience into context. This is a natural human tenancy. But, Peter and his friends did not fully realize the implications their experience had on the future.
28b Taking along Peter and John and James, HE went to the mountain to pray. 29 In HIS praying, HIS face changed and HIS clothes became white and flashed (like lightning). 30 And, look! Two men were talking to HIM, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, having been seen (by the disciples) in glory, spoke about his departure which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. 32 Now, Peter and those with him had been burdened with sleep. But awakened, they saw HIS glory and (that) of the two (men) standing with HIM. 33 It happened in their parting from him (that) Peter said to JESUS, "Master, it is good (for) us to be here. We should make tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah," (but) not knowing what he said. 34 As he said these things, a cloud happened (by) and (it) overshadowed them. They were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my son, the one having been chosen. Listen to him." 36 When the sound happened, Jesus was found (to be) alone. They were silent and told to no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
9:29 "his face changed" is literally "his face became (as) other"
9:31 "his departure" is literally "his exodus" This phrase referred to the death of Jesus.
9:33 "(but) not knowing what he said" This phrase referred back to the subject, Peter. In Luke, like the other evangelists, Peter was seen as blurting out the first thing that came to his mind. He did not understand the gravity of the scene or its meaning.
9:36 "When the sound happened, Jesus was found (to be) alone." The implication Jesus was found to be alone immediately after the voice from heaven, not during.
9:36 "They were silent and told to no one . . . anything" is literally "They were silent and told no one . . . nothing" The two verbs of silence and the double negative in the second clause made the reaction of disciples emphatic.
Personal change may be reflected in past experience, but it can be of an unknown origin, or even the promise of the future. We need trust in God's will to cope with such change. And we find God's will in prayer.
Jesus invited his earliest disciples and closest friends to pray with him . Several verses earlier in Luke, Jesus revealed the type of Messiah he would be; he predicted his death and resurrection. Now it was time for the power and meaning of the prediction to set in; so, Jesus prayed and shared his prayer time with Peter, James, and John.
The power and meaning of Christ's prediction revealed themselves as a heavenly vision. Glorified, Jesus discussed his coming death with the two pillars of the Jewish faith: Moses, the Law giver, and Elijah, the first of the prophets [29-31]. The presence of both represented the two divisions of the Jewish Scripture, the Law and the Prophets. Hence, the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah symbolized the Passion as the fulfillment of Scripture.
Did Peter, James, and John fully understand the implications of Jesus' prediction and its meaning? Hardly. They were asleep; not only were they in slumber (the literal meaning of sleep), they didn't understand (the figurative meaning of being asleep) . This scene would be repeated when Jesus took these same disciples with him to pray at the Agony in the Garden.
From his slumber and lack of understanding, Peter wanted to build three booths or tents . Tents built on the side of a mountain were references to the Festival of Booths, when the Jews had a post-harvest celebration. During the multi-day festival, people lived in temporary shelters around Jerusalem. At one point they carried palm branches into a procession. In the centuries before the birth of Jesus, the festival took on Messianic overtones:
And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the Lord), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light.
And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.
Then every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of booths. (Zechariah 14:7, 9, 16 RSV)
The symbols were all here: the light, the central focus on Jesus, climbing the mountain to worship (just as Jerusalem was built on a mountain). But Peter wanted to celebrate a past revelation (i.e., Moses and Elijah as the Law and the Prophets: the Jewish Scripture) and a past understanding of the Messiah (i.e., Jesus as the political and religious Messiah).
Peter failed to realize Jesus was speaking about a future event and a future revelation. The past meant no change, but the future meant uncontrollable change. The past merely required certainty; the future required faith. In his fear, Peter lacked faith; he just didn't know what he was saying.
To confirm the revelation, the cloud and the voice from heaven (both symbols of God's presence) appear. From the cloud the Father affirms his Son's prediction with the words: "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." The word of God given through the Law and the Prophets was now given through Jesus. The focus of the past now became the focus on the future.
Catechism Theme: Divine Providence and the Promise of the Future (CCC 321-324)
We may take comfort in the past, in the Tradition of Faith. And so we should. But that comfort should not mask the possibilities the future holds. Ultimately, change lies in the hands of God, in divine providence.
What is divine providence? Divine Providence is the wise and loving act of God which guides all creation from its origin to its ultimate end. We take part in divine providence by freely cooperating with God's plan for our lives, to trust in God's will. Even when we place our trust in God, we can still experience the results of sin. After all, evil lurks in the world.
Why does God permit evil in the world? When we ask this question, we can also ask, "Why did the Son of God die on the cross?" The answer to both questions is the same: to allow a greater good to come from the evil. Christ died in order to rise from the dead. The faith that believes in the risen Lord will also give us hope that a greater good comes from an evil act.
At the Transfiguration, Peter, John, and James experienced the living tradition of the past and the promise of salvation in the future. But, that promise came at a price. The death of the Master they loved.
What challenges to faith have you experienced? How did God guide you through them? Did your experience of divine providence increase your faith in God? Why or why not?
We Christians may not be immune from the stresses of future promise. But, we have a unique perspective on the future. We look forward to God's will and the coming of the Lord in glory through the eyes of a faith two millennium old. We are, in effect, looking at the future through a rearview mirror. Such a view should not blind us to the possibilities of the future. It should just give our view perspective.
How should we cope with future shock? How did Jesus? In prayer. Prayer is time with God's will and our future. How we spent that time is a clear measure of our trust in God and his ways that change us.
The challenge of the future should give us pause. And a chance to pray. What challenges lie on your horizon this week? How have you placed them in prayer?