Light and Mystery and Jesus and Peter on the Mountaintop

Mark 9:2-9

Peter is so afraid that his first impulse is to start building things?

Or is he so overwhelmed by what is before him that all he can think to do to try to regain some semblance of control is to keep busy?

Or is actually a genuine impulse to be hospitable, or to capture the moment and stay in it, as I have often first read this story?

Perhaps it is still the last that is so, but I find myself wondering about other more ‘human’ explanations for Peter’s response today.

For Peter surely found himself, as we all do from time to time, in a situation beyond his comprehension, entirely out of his control, and so yes, of course, his first thought may well have been to do something, anything, so as to bring order or understanding to something which was entirely out of his reach.

Indeed, instead of standing still and taking in that which was right in front of him—all that brilliant light and incomprehensible mystery— one could conclude that Peter would rather have turned his back, casting about for whatever was at hand to build some kind of shelter for the holy ones who stood before him.

It might almost seem as though Peter was grasping for control over something over which he could not, would not ever have control. And while there is inherently nothing wrong with that, I suppose, in doing so, one might one also stand in danger of missing out on a whole lot right then and there.

Or at least so it seems to me.

And it probably seems so to me because I surely recognize myself in Peter now.

Oh, along with you I have most often heard in Peter’s words his wanting to stay on that mountaintop, in that glorious time and place where the past met the present and perhaps, at least eventually in hindsight, would help make sense of the future which was bearing down on them even then.  Perhaps it was that.  Even so? It seems to me Peter may be trying to hold on to his own agency in a situation which was entirely outside of his doing.  It was only his to receive.  And from what we are told today, one might conclude that he was struggling to do so.

And yes, I do see myself in him today.  Maybe more so now than ever in the wake of these last many months of not being able simply ‘do’ what I have always done.  For try as I might, I have not been able as I always did to put my world in boxes (or booths) of my own understanding, controlling the inconceivable in whatever ways I could.

And this is so. This truth has come home to me in a particular way in these past days when the community of believers I serve alongside has three hospitalized with Covid-19, a couple of them seriously ill and struggling.

  • And I cannot do what I have always done.
  • I cannot order it as I would have even just a year ago.
  •   I am not able to play the role I always did before.

And while there was nothing inherently wrong with how it was before, these days, out of necessity, it seems, I am being taken to a different place.

For these days I cannot simply go and be and pray and hold a hand and listen deeply and pray again.

I can send a text and offer prayer on the phone.  And I can pray and pray and pray from here. And in and through all of this I am ever more deeply aware that all I can really do is simply entrust them and all whom they love into God’s hands. Knowing, of course, that they have been there all along. But for now it is mine to simply intentionally trust them to that brilliant light, that reflection of God’s glory, and then stand still and simply gaze at that light which is the source of all healing and hope.

Because there is nothing else. Not for them, really, and not for me and all of us.

It is out of my hands, and in many ways out of theirs as well as they simply wait on the goodness of God which comes in healing and hope and peace and life itself.

Only now I see more surely than ever before that this has always been so. And I wonder if in my long engrained impulse to go and do, if maybe I didn’t always allow myself to see that. To receive that.

And there is also this.  I find myself wondering at what James and John must have been thinking as they listened to Peter being ‘true to character’ now.

I wonder if at first they wished they had thought of it first — this impulse to build something so that the moment could be captured, the precious figures of their faith welcomed more fully. Or I wonder if the light was blinding to them, too, and they also wished for a way to be distracted from the fear that had its grip on them.

Or I wonder if they just shook their heads at the distraction, entranced in that moment, in spite of their fear,  just trying to receive all that God meant for them to receive on that mountaintop.

We will never know, of course, for James and John, along with Jesus, are all silent now.

As for Jesus, I imagine him loving Peter anyway, but wondering when he would finally get it —  this truth that the gifts of God are not his to control, but just to receive and then, yes, seek to give away.  I cannot help but think that Jesus recognizes the fear in Peter’s heart and finds himself yearning for Peter to know that he holds nothing in his own power to take that away, and turning it aside, as he seems to do now, will not begin to bring a lasting peace or understanding. Oh, I imagine Jesus’ own heart breaking just a little as he recognizes Peter’s inability to just be still and take it all in.

I am not sure what this all says about this moment you and I find ourselves in.  For this moment, too, is fraught with fear rooted in the suffering of countless ones including each of us.

  • Maybe the call today is to move towards the fear itself and in it or through it or in spite of it to see God’s Glory holding all that we are and hope to be.
  • To somehow learn to trust today that God is doing something now.
  • Even if for a moment or an hour or a day or more it is terrifying.  Even if we cannot comprehend its full meaning just yet.

For as they head down that mountain, we hear Jesus saying not to speak of what they had experienced just yet. Not until after he had risen from the dead. It is as though he does not expect them to understand it all yet.  Certainly not enough to speak of it.

And yet, for the rest of us we certainly know, don’t we, that the resurrection was all God’s doing. Perhaps holding on to this certainty, you and I are better able to comprehend than Peter and James and John were, that the best and most we can do is to always only stand firmly in the light of God’s power and grace and hope.

As much as he wanted to be, offered to be, tried to be, Peter could not control what was happening right before him. His efforts to do so likely only offered him a temporary diversion from what he could not yet understand, from what he could not figure out how to take into himself.

And neither can we be: in control that is.

  • Like Peter and James and John, all we can do is receive what God is giving, and try to give it away.
  • All we can do is stand in the light and watch and wait to see what God will offer next.
  • Or at least so it seems to me these days when circumstances beyond my control appear to offer so few other options.

At least it seems to be so to me.

  • I have found myself going in an entirely different direction than I ever have before as I consider Peter’s response on that mountaintop and I confess that on this page I am ‘working it out.’ I am still in the middle of ‘this time’ and I do not yet have the benefit of the perspective of hindsight.  What do you think, though?  Might it be worthwhile to consider that God is doing something now that is entirely out of our reach? Might there be wisdom in seeking to stand still and just receive whatever that might be?
  • Certainly this time with all of its restrictions has limited my ability to ‘put in boxes’ (or ‘booths’ if you will) that which before made me uncomfortable or felt out of reach. I am forced now to rethink a lot of things.  Has this been so for you in any way?
  • I do wonder if this time is teaching me even more deeply to rely on the truth that God is acting (even when I cannot yet see it) and I am merely witness to the good that God does.  One can certainly assent to the truth of this, it seems to me, all the while comprehending the truth of this more deeply over time.  At least this is what I am experiencing now.  I wonder if I am alone in this.  And I wonder how this will change not only how I pastor, but how I live, when we move into a different time in our life together when I can again more easily be and do as I was accustomed to being and doing before…




  1. Craig says:

    I totally agree with you that this year I read this story in a new way.
    As I read the readings last night, the three words that hit me are:

    This year is definitely having such effects.

    Not sure where I’m going with this yet…

    Blessings and thanks

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