2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
“This is my son, the Beloved. Listen to him!”
What does it mean to listen – truly listen? To listen to God? To another person? To listen to what is going on in the world around us?
To listen means more than mere hearing, the mere physical sensation of sound waves hitting the ear drum. The old English roots of “to listen” are “to pay attention.” When we truly listen we lean in toward the person who commands our attention.
These past weeks we have been listening to stories of Jesus healing people. If we really paid attention to those stories, we would see that they are not about the mere physical healing, but about restoration – the person is brought back into community, into wholeness, in her family, into his society.
It is easy to be dazzled by God – to see so much glory or majesty or distance or power that we, perhaps, miss the point. In this story where Jesus and his disciples climb the mountain, something astounding happens – so astounding that the disciples do not know what to make of it. Jesus is transfigured – changed – morphed – yet all that dazzling glory gets in the way. The disciples are afraid – who wouldn’t be? Rather than leaning in, paying attention to what is going on on that blazing mountain, they step back. They want to contain the experience, by building shelters, erecting tents, hiding away this thing so glorious that they can barely stand it. They are so missing the point that God has to shout out from the cloud, Hey you! Stop running around! THIS is my Son, the one I love. Listen to him!
Jesus stands there with Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet. Both Moses and Elijah acted for God when things were bad for the people – Moses was the liberator who brought the people out of Egypt, the one who put up with their grumbling in the wilderness, the one who told them how God wanted them to live. Elijah, the man of God, lived when the people were ruled by corrupt kings and were tempted to worship other gods. Both Moses and Elijah are massive figures in Jewish memory and imagination. Jesus is standing on that mountaintop with the A Team, definitely.
But think on this: neither Moses nor Elijah got to the finish line. Moses died, having seen the Promised Land to which he was leading the people, but not able to cross over. Our story today, about Elijah leaving earth in the chariot of fire, is a story also of not being finished. There is more work to do, and Elisha, Elijah’s successor, feels unready to take up the task. What does is say that Jesus stands there with these two mighty ones?
This story is smack dab in the middle of the Gospel of Mark. From this point onward, Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem. Soon after these verses, Jesus tells the disciples the hard news of what they will face: the confrontations with the powers, the heavy burden of the cross, the inevitable suffering and death.
The disciples no more want to listen to this hard news than they can comprehend the dazzling glory of the mountain. Listening to Jesus now involves much more than they counted on when they became his disciples.
We are about to enter Lent; the church has always put this lesson of Jesus on the mountaintop, of God shouting out, “Listen to him,” on this Sunday before the beginning of Lent.
Lent is the time, then, when we are to be listening to God. When we are supposed to be paying attention to what God is doing in the world. In that sense, then, Lent is the season of solidarity. It is the season when we pay attention to what is going on – when we notice who is sick and in need of healing. When we notice what is out of whack in the world, what needs to be restored. When we listen to the cries and whispers, the hopes and dreams, of God’s people, the people God has put in our care.
Lent is the time we listen to Jesus. We try out that heavy cross a little bit. We pay attention to that dazzling glory. And we wait, in the days of lengthening daylight, for the great time of trial that lies ahead. Listen.