Now is not the time to build something: Mark 9
Mark continues to write long and diverse chapters. Here, in Mark 9 (link), we go from the Mount of Transfiguration all the way through casting out a demon, on to having child-like faith and finishing on gouging out your eye to not go to hell. At the very least, there’s a dozen sermons in this chapter. I will not attempt to preach them all right here.
Not that I wouldn’t like to. Let’s take a look just one part:
The Mount of Transfiguration. This is, by my estimate, the number one moment of “weird” in the earthly ministry of Jesus. The healings are great, the teaching is awesome, and the nature-controlling moments just reinforce the divinity of Christ. The Resurrection is the biggest event in history and the Virgin Birth of Jesus is close alongside.
Yet then there’s this story. Peter, James, and John go up on an undisclosed mountain with Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus and his garments become radiant and “exceedingly white” (Mark 9:3, note that “no launderer on earth” could do that). Also, Elijah and Moses show up to talk with Jesus.
That we look back and see the symbolism of Jesus talking with Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet as valuable does not truly diminish the oddity of this story. I have yet to find a single point in a Protestant Evangelical Theology that hangs solely on the Transfiguration. This despite the presence of the event in all three Synoptic Gospels.
It’s just an odd story. We don’t know much about what to do with it. The biggest point of theology here is the voice from heaven, what we would assume is the voice of God Himself. In this case, God is attesting again what was said at the Baptism of Jesus: “This is My beloved Son.” That’s not a bad reminder.
Where I find the help in this passage is in the action of Peter. In this chapter, Peter proves that he was not the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, but rather the founder of the First Baptist Church. When faced with an amazing, once-in-eternity spiritual event, Peter wants to…
Build something. Actually, three somethings. He’d like to build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Now, we Baptists are big fans of building stuff and this sounds just like us. There’s a moment here to be learned from, there is something amazing happens.
And Peter’s concern is to find a way to put a roof over it and hold it tight. His motives here are unknown, except Mark notes Peter’s fear. He could have wanted to note a great moment and be reminded of it for years to come. He may have thought that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were going to be there a while and would need a place to sleep. He might have wanted to be rewarded for his building.
I think it’s safe to give Peter the benefit of the doubt and admit that I would not have known what to do either. I would have fallen into an action bias at that point as well. In case I’m making up terms, I’ll explain action bias: it is a tendency to say “let’s do something, even if it’s wrong.” It is a bias to act without thinking.
By the way, the opposite is ‘inaction bias’ which is the assumption that nothing should ever be done. That’s bad as well.
There is a time, though, to stop and learn. A time to realize that nothing that your hands can put forward will be memorial enough for the moment. A time to learn at the feet of the Master: for Peter, James, and John, they likely would have grown up with great respect for Moses and Elijah, but here is Jesus being highlighted as greater than even these two.
That’s a big deal. Don’t miss the big deal moments of life because you’re too busy trying to blog them or take pictures or make memorials. Sometimes, it is better to live the moment and let your mind do the remembering later.
Today’s Nerd Note: I’m trying to get my word count for these posts back down, it’s been creeping way up. So, the Nerd Note is more of a question:
Do you read both the Transfiguration story and the demon-casting story that follows immediately after it together? You should. This is what met Jesus coming down the mountain. Keep them together in your mind. While there are separable lessons in each, there are lessons paired here as well.