Luke 9:28-36 (CEV)
28 About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him and went up on a mountain to pray. 29 While he was praying, his face changed, and his clothes became shining white. 30 Suddenly Moses and Elijah were there speaking with him. 31 They appeared in heavenly glory and talked about all that Jesus’ death in Jerusalem would mean.
32 Peter and the other two disciples had been sound asleep. All at once they woke up and saw how glorious Jesus was. They also saw the two men who were with him.
33 Moses and Elijah were about to leave, when Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But Peter did not know what he was talking about.
34 While Peter was still speaking, a shadow from a cloud passed over them, and they were frightened as the cloud covered them. 35 From the cloud a voice spoke, “This is my chosen Son. Listen to what he says!”
36 After the voice had spoken, Peter, John, and James saw only Jesus. For some time they kept quiet and did not say anything about what they had seen.
I know this will come as a complete surprise to those of you who know me best (my family reads this, after all) but when I get afraid my tendency – almost always – is to control. This was very true when I was a kid, and I was afraid that something my brother would do would get me in trouble. And it’s been true this week as I’ve tried to deal with my fear of animals in the face of the cat we got our kids. If I don’t know what to expect, or if I don’t know how something works or if I’m afraid that I’ll be judged or if I’m worried that “bad things” will happen, my default response is to try to control.
So I can relate well to Peter in this story. He wakes up from sleep, and here are these legends of his religious and cultural history – Moses and Elijah – talking with his Rabbi, Jesus – who he’s recently worked out is the Messiah – and he desperately wants to get it right, but has no clue what’s going on! So he starts rushing around trying to control things. He starts off with “‘Master, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” He’s going to put up some tents or build some lean-to’s so that the spiritual dudes in front of him will have somewhere to stay. And even before we read the next sentence, this seems like an odd response, really. He doesn’t start with, “Hi” or “What’s going on?” or even “I’ve always wanted to ask you this question, Moses”. Instead he starts by trying to justify why he’s there and try to control the situation and put Jesus, Moses and Elijah into a box that he can understand and relate to individually.
Luke tells us in the next sentence what we probably figured out on our own, though. “Peter did not know what he was talking about.”
Yet – and here’s the grace in all of this, for Peter, for me, for anyone else who has a bit of a Peter tendency – he doesn’t get smited for what he has said. “While Peter was still speaking …” – not even waiting to let Peter dig himself deeper into the hole he is making – “a shadow from a cloud passed over them … the cloud covered them. And from the cloud a voice spoke …”
In response to Peter’s fear and fumbling and broken response, God shows up in a way that only a miniscule handful of people are recorded to have experienced. A cloud covers them and a voice from the cloud speaks directly to them, and the words of that voice make it perfectly clear that this is God the Father speaking: “‘This is my chosen Son. Listen to what he says.’”
It’s an affirmation of Jesus as God’s Son.
It’s part of a bigger context of affirmation of Jesus and preparation of Jesus for the experiences that lie ahead of him – especially his death.
It’s a command from God to listen to Jesus – even when he starts to talk about things that are uncomfortable and scary and unpleasant (which is going to start happening more in the coming days and weeks and months leading up to the crucifixion).
But I think it’s also, on some level, a direct response to Peter and his fear. It’s almost as if God is saying, “You don’t have to be afraid, Peter. You don’t have to try to make any of this Messiah-thing happen. You aren’t responsible for getting it right. You’re not my chosen son. That’s not bad – that’s good! It means you just get to listen to my chosen son. He’s got this. I’ve got this. We’ve got this. You don’t have to try to control things. You don’t have to be afraid.”Journal Questions:
- How do you respond when you’re afraid? Do you lash out? Try to control? Make yourself as small as possible?
- What did your fear look like when you were small?
- What does it look like with your family today?
- What does it look like with God?
- How well are you able to listen – rationally – when you’re afraid?
- What would you have to do with your fear to be able to truly listen to what God is calling you to do, or to be, or to let go of, or to move forward with?