This Sunday we hear a story about Jesus that challenges us to re-think what we know and believe about him. That was certainly the case for his inner circle of friends, Peter, James and John. They could never have foreseen what would happen that day when Jesus invited them to go with him up a very high mountain. If I were in their shoes I would expect that Jesus wanted to get away from the crowd and the heavy load of teaching and healing just for a short while, and take time to pray. I would expect that this was a kind of prayer retreat that Jesus was taking us on. Going up a high mountain makes us think of Moses who climbed Mount Sinai to talk with God and returned with his face shining like the sun. Going up a high mountain can be physically demanding, but when you get to the top and see the view it can be breathtaking.
There is something special about seeing things from a different perspective, and being high up like that, away from the noise and bustle of people engaged in work, or shopping, often means that you have time and space to think and pray. There is something renewing about hiking in wilderness country, or walking through a forest, listening to the sound of bird calls, watching for wildlife or searching for native orchids as you walk along a bush track. You may not think of it as ‘prayer’ but it is a way of appreciating and enjoying the beauty of creation and that enjoyment itself is a kind of prayer.
All through history people have made the effort to go to remote places in order to clear their minds and find the kind of silence they need to listen for the voice of God.
All this may well have been going through the minds of Peter, James and John as they climbed that mountain. But this was no ordinary day. They were to recall this day for years to come, (see 2 Peter 1:16-18) for when they reached the top and began to pray they suddenly saw Jesus in a very different light. Luke describes it eloquently when he says, “and while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white.
Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” Scholars have struggled to explain this strange event by saying it was a ‘vision’ shared by the three disciples, while others have said that just for a moment – as though a veil was removed – they saw in Jesus the true glory of God. Our scientific world view will always struggle to grasp the wonder and mystery of God, and tries to confine God to the limits of our language and understanding.
Just for a moment the disciples were given a glimpse of glory, and they couldn’t grasp it. It was as though it was just too much for them, and it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that the penny drops and they have that ‘Ah ha!’ moment when everything becomes clear. We all have those ‘Ah ha!’ moments in our lives – they are flashes of revelation, of deep insight, of gifts to us, that help us see things and people from a different and often more helpful perspective.
When Paul reflected on this in 2 Corinthians 3:18 he spoke of our lives being transformed when we see the glory of God in Christ when he is preached to us, when we read of him in Scripture, when we meet him in the Eucharist, but also we see that glory in the love we receive from others and give to others. We see the glory of God wherever forgiveness is offered and lives are set free. We see the glory of God in the smile of a stranger, in an act of kindness, in a reassuring word, in a hug given to comfort and sustain. A lot of the time it seems our eyes are veiled, but from time to time we too are given a glimpse of the glory of God in the midst of our ordinary life, and its impact is life-giving.