In Sunday’s Gospel we see that as we climb to the mountain top we see God in a new light. Mountains are special places in the Holy Scriptures and they are also special places in many of our lives. Last week we saw Jesus in the wilderness (Mark 1:11-12), an arid desert place with high mountainous points. There Jesus struggles with gaining perspective and clarity on his mission and ministry and the difficulties that would lie ahead. He deals with the deceptions of power- political power, religious power and even magic power so that his own human needs would be met. Jesus laboriously sorted out those distractions from his purpose which was to proclaim that the kin(g)dom of God has arrived, he preaches that it is time to turn our lives around and to give our lives for God’s inclusive love and justice for all. Jesus often went to the mountains to pray and to commune with Abba God. He also preached in the hills and mountains. All three synoptic Gospels record Jesus taking Peter, James and John up the Mountain where they experienced who he was and saw his divinity in a new way. Mark 9:2-10, our Gospel for this Sunday is Mark’s account of this encounter. It is a centerpiece of Mark’s Gospel. The other sources are Matt 17:1-9 and Luke 9: 28-35.
Mountains are the favorite places of many who seek both challenge and perspective including my life partner and co-Pastor Judy Beaumont. Her memories of touring the Canadian Rockies and mountain climbing in Colorado are among her most cherished. As part of an executive leadership group from Hartford, Connecticut the Colorado Rockies was a magnificent place to learn new skills and build working relationships. This secular group was moved to prayer as they climbed a high mountain and, surrounded by crisp clear beauty, saw Pike’s peak in the distance. When we lived in Connecticut she liked to take me up to the top of Avon Mountain and point out all we could see below, including the city of Hartford. Our work with the homeless in Hartford was difficult and trying at times and the perspective of seeing the whole city before us somehow opened new ways to think about concerns. Through her I learned that one can be especially close to God in the mountains. When we visited Medellin in Colombia, South America we were thrilled to see the city below from the top of the mountain and the contrast was stark between the busy, crowded very modern city and the rural path to the top of the mountain. The very air was different. Similarly when we traveled upward to the Salt Cathedral in Bogata, Colombia the mountains provided a totally new view of the world below.
Sadly, many of our people born and raised here in Florida have never seen a Mountain. Florida is extremely flat. When we took our teens to Washington DC a literal highpoint was climbing the hills of Arlington Cemetery to the Custer-Lee Mansion where there was a beautiful and profound memorial to free blacks and to the slaves of George and Martha Washington. Metaphorically this was a place of new light for our African-American teens. But standing on the precipice of the high hill looking down on Washington D.C. was an equally new and exciting experience. One of the teens felt dizzy at the height but after some nausea she made herself look down despite her fear. She was delighted at what she saw. All but one who was fearful also loved seeing the world from the height of the Washington Monument. We seek our own heights in buildings and towers when they are not presented to us naturally.
In the Scriptures God’s holiness and purposes are often revealed to God’s prophets on the Mountain top. We see the prophet Moses communing with God on Mt. Sinai described as the holy mountain (Exodus 19:28) and the God- symbols of a thick cloud and thunder and lightning and smoke frightened the people while giving Divine authority to the Law Moses gave them (Exodus 20). In Sunday’s reading from Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18 we follow Abraham up the mountain at Moriah with his beloved child Isaac. Ultimately here Abraham is willing to give that which he loves most to God and God is not accepting a human sacrifice. But Abraham’s love of God and his faithfulness is rewarded with a covenant from God that Abraham’s descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore and all nations on earth will be blessed through them (Gen 22: 17-18). Indeed adherents of the three faiths springing from Abrahamic roots are “like the stars in the sky”.
In Mark 9:2-8 Jesus is presented in divine light and connected to Moses and Elijah who suffered greatly even as they led God’s people. Jesus is seen on par with them and as the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. He looks different. His very appearance is radiant including his clothing, indicating their perception of his divinity. The disciples are amazed and frightened. Then in the cover of the cloud they hear God’s voice affirming Jesus as also happened in Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved, my Own. Listen to this One.” Now there is divine authority to do what Jesus asks, to follow him.
In Mark 8: 31-33 Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. He then invites his followers to “take up their crosses and follow him” (Mark 8:35). This is a heavy invitation to accept, and one for which the disciples need to be strengthened. The trip to the mountain top is to give them just the surety and strength they need to take Jesus up on this invitation. As they descend the mountain the disciples are talking about what “rising from the dead” means (Mark 9:10). Earlier (Mark 8) Peter just rebuffed Jesus for saying such a thing. Now, they try to understand what this means because they see him in a new light. Whether experienced in a dream or another type of experience, they have new vision of Jesus, the Christ.
This is what Pope Francis said about the Transfiguration:
“We need to go to a place of retreat, to climb the mountain and go to a place of silence, to find ourselves and better perceive the voice of the Lord. We cannot stay there, however. The encounter with God in prayer again pushes us to come down from the mountain and back down into the plain, where we meet many brothers and sisters weighed down by fatigue, injustice, and both material and spiritual poverty.”
Angelus talk on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, March 16, 2014 When we have those wonderful mountain top experiences in life, times that all seems clear and we are close to God, when we feel awe and new purpose, we long to stay there. Yet, like Jesus and the disciples, we must come down from the mountain and continue the work God has given us to do-to be faithful to the Gospel of love and inclusion and justice no matter how hard that is to pursue with those who have the greatest material and spiritual needs. Let us then, seek to follow Christ whether to the top of the mountain or to the cross and grave, for we too shall rise, and do rise daily with Christ.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community