We have seen his glory! – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Mark 9:2-9

What do we make of a story like this?  Jesus leads three of his closest friends up a high mountain and there he is transfigured before them!  His clothes become dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them!  Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, suddenly appear beside Jesus, speaking with him!  A cloud overshadows them all, and a voice booms out of the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved.  Listen to him!” No wonder the poor disciples are terrified!

What do we make of a story like this that describes a theophany so extraordinary, so spectacular, so dazzling, so supernatural, that it defies logic.  The whole experience lies so far beyond anything any of us has or ever will see or know, it is almost impossible to imagine.

For a few brief moments, the veil is lifted and the disciples see the radiant glory of God beaming from the person of Jesus.  And then it is over, as quickly as it began.

The remarkable incident described in today’s gospel reading calls to mind the earlier story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist (Mark 1:9-11).  There, too, a voice from heaven rumbled out of the clouds, though this time the message was directed to Jesus himself: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  It was a message of love and affirmation, which confirmed his identity as God’s Beloved Son, and signaled the start of his mission.

Here the same words are used, except this time the message is directed to the disciples: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  Listen to him, indeed.  Because the disciples had definitely not been listening to him.

The context of the story is this: Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, and along the way, Jesus has been telling his disciples plainly that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).  His disciples hear what he says, but they aren’t really listening – or if they’re listening, they’re not comprehending – because as soon as Jesus utters these words, Peter “rebukes” him.  Peter’s words reveal the mindset of all the disciples: they are awaiting a Messiah, but it certainly isn’t a Messiah who will “undergo great suffering” and “be rejected” and “be killed,” as Jesus has been telling them.  So the voice on the mountain sets them straight.  LISTEN to him!

Do they?  No, not yet.  They’re too busy arguing about which of them is the greatest, and whether they’ll be permitted to sit at his right hand and his left when he establishes his kingdom.  So Jesus has to continue to instruct them, again and again, that the kingdom he is announcing is unlike any other kingdom and certainly unlike the kingdom they are envisioning, which is all about power.  His kingdom is an upside-down kingdom, where the first are last and the last are first, and where the greatest is the one who is servant of all.  It’s not about power, but about service. They don’t seem to get that, so the voice on the mountain sets them straight.  LISTEN to him!

The story of the Transfiguration figures prominently in each of the three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. For the briefest of moments, the veil is lifted and the three disciples are dazzled by the glory of God radiating from the person of Jesus.  He is aflame with God’s glory, the eternal splendor of the Father – and it absolutely terrifies them.

John’s gospel is different.  It fails to record both the baptismal story and the story of the Transfiguration.  This omission has long puzzled commentators.  If John had known these stories, it seems reasonable that he would have included them in his gospel, since they underscore themes that are very important to him. The baptismal story in which God affirms Jesus as his Beloved Son would have illustrated dramatically the intimate relationship that Jesus had with his “Father,” which is so integral to John’s story about Jesus.  And this story of the Transfiguration would have reinforced John’s conviction that Jesus came to reveal the glory of the Father and to share that glory with those who believed.

John doesn’t record the story of the Transfiguration, but he certainly sees the glory of God made manifest in Jesus.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” John writes, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The magnificent manifestation of God’s glory on the mountaintop was witnessed by only three of Jesus’ disciples – Peter, James and John.  But that doesn’t mean that the others failed to see it.  Jesus had been revealing God’s glory all along.  Don’t you think the disciples must have glimpsed the glory of God in the face of Jesus when he welcomed strangers and outcasts?  Wouldn’t they have recognized it when he forgave a woman caught in the act of adultery or when he welcomed little children into his presence or when he touched and healed lepers, blind men and beggars?  Might they not have witnessed God’s glory when they saw him kneel in prayer during the long hours of the night, or when they watched him take up a bowl and towel and wash their feet, or when they witnessed him laying down his life for them, as a shepherd lays down his life for his sheep?  Surely the glory of God radiated from the face of Jesus when he looked with deep compassion on the broken and needy, when he touched the rejected and despised, when he embraced and lifted up the poor and the oppressed.  His disciples were no strangers to that glory.

And what about those who saw and believed in the centuries that followed?  They, too, were witnesses to his glory.  They, too, were touched by his story and moved by his compassion.  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” writes John the Evangelist (John 1:16).  “No one has ever seen God,” John goes on to say, “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).  Over the course of centuries, billions of people have seen and known God’s glory in the face of Jesus, God’s only Son, just as his first disciples did.  And their lives have been transformed.

ALL of us…,” writes St Paul to the Corinthians, “…seeing the glory of God as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…” (II Cor. 3:18)  We, too, have been witnesses of his glory; and we, too, are being transformed by that glory into his image, into the likeness of Christ.  We, too, can radiate that glory in the world – whenever we love as he loved us; whenever we stand for truth and for justice, as he did; whenever we act, like him, as agents of peace and of blessing towards others.

We, too, have seen his glory, and we, too, can be reflectors of that glory throughout the world.  “Do not be conformed to this world,” then, but “be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” (Romans 12:2). “Look upon him and be radiant!” (Psalm 34:5; BCP, p. 628).

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1 Comments

  1. Randy LaRosa on February 17, 2024 at 08:55

    Thank you so very much for your insight Brother David as this has always been difficult to understand.

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