Week of Feb. 13: This is my beloved
Rev. Teresa Edwards
Lesson scripture: Mark 9:2-13
On Friday mornings, with anticipation I turn on “Morning Edition” on National Public Radio. As StoryCorp comes on, I enter the world of two people I have never met who share about a significant life moment in the form of an interview. StoryCorp invites everyday people who know and love each other to sit down and ask important questions about life, love, loss, choices, forgiveness and grace. The powerful and touching book “Listening Is an Act of Love” came out of the thousands of interviews just like the ones I hear on Friday mornings. Listening changes lives! A wise person once said that listening is so close to loving it’s hard to tell the difference. Listening to the words of the people we love matters. Listening to the Beloved Son matters more than anything.
I can’t hear you!
Today’s text opens on Jesus and three of His disciples: Peter, James and John. Mark wants the reader to pay attention to the timing of this story by starting verse 2 with the phrase “after six days.” During these six days, surely the disciples continue to ponder Jesus’ earlier question, “Who do you say that I am?” “In the Jewish tradition six days was the period of preparation and purification necessary before a close encounter with God.” (“New International Lesson Annual,” Duerling) Peter, James and John are being prepared to witness a holy moment revealing further Jesus’ identity and purpose.
On that mountaintop, Jesus “was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” (Mark 9:3-4) A cloud signifying the presence of God envelops the group and the voice of God sounds from heaven: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7) Almost as soon as the moment begins, it ends. Immediately Jesus and the disciples walk back down the mountain.
How do the apostles respond to this amazing and confusing experience? Before God even speaks, Peter offers to build three shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. James and John manage to keep their mouths shut during the transfiguration, but then find themselves joining Peter in questioning Jesus about Elijah’s return as they descend the mountaintop. In their minds, they wonder and worry about Jesus’ words on rising from the dead. These disciples talk, think, worry and do, but listen very little, even after God commands them from heaven to do so.
Hearing does not equal listening. The “I can’t hear you” epidemic plagues us still today. Just like the disciples, we think, act and do instead of truly listen. On the television game show “Jeopardy,” the contestants who attempt to guess the answer with only half the question often miss the mark. Disciples today miss the mark in our hurry to figure it out on our own before God finishes speaking to us about our place and work in the kingdom. To listen actively and lovingly requires our full attention to word and expression. Like Martha, you and I often choose to listen to the demanding cry of our own thoughts or our many tasks rather than choosing a place with Mary at Jesus’ feet, listening.
When we do this repeatedly, we do so to our detriment. In the very next passage in Mark, the disciples fail to heal a demon-possessed boy. After Jesus heals the boy, they ask, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (Mark 9:28) Jesus replies, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.”(Mark 9:29)
It is only in listening to Jesus that the Spirit gives us the power to do the work of the kingdom. Our age-old “I can’t hear you” problem stems from acting without understanding and doing without listening. Discipleship begins with, centers on and ends with listening to Jesus.
Glory and Suffering
In this passage the glory of the transfiguration is not the end of the story. As they descend the mountain,
Jesus tells them once more that “that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt.” (Mark 9:12) How do Peter, James and John move from a moment of holiness and light to a warning of suffering and death? Jesus makes it very clear that Messiah means more than the glory they just witnessed. In our previous lesson, Peter struggles with this same word from Jesus. Hearing this painful prediction a second time makes it no easier to comprehend. “It would be much, much later, after the passion, the burial, and the empty tomb, until these disciples understood this lesson.” (“The New International Lesson Annual,” Duerling)
Some truth is too difficult to listen to, too painful to hear. The suffering and death of Jesus makes today’s Christians turn away as well. We too “tend to think that Jesus is most clearly Son of God in glory, not in suffering.” (“New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary,” Volume VIII) Yet like those disciples, you and I must listen to Jesus’ words on suffering if we are to hear His words on abundant life. One cannot be separated from the other. Both the dark and the light come each day. It is only with the promise of the light that we can make our way through the dark. Jesus’ darkness means light for you and me.
Listening provides the key! Only in listening to the easy word and the difficult word can we know the heart of Christ and one another. Only in listening completely can we follow in the holy way that leads to abundant life. Jesus’ words are not a buffet where we pick and choose our preferences and leave behind that which does not please us. Selective hearing serves only ourselves, not the kingdom that Jesus came to usher in through His death and resurrection. True listening means ascending the mountain in awe and descending the mountain in trust, even when fears and doubts assail us. God’s command for us is the same today as it was that day on the mountaintop with Peter, James and John: “This is my Beloved Son: Listen to Him!”
Rev. Teresa Edwards is the associate pastor at Forest Hills UMC in Macon. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.