Mark 9:2–9 (NRSV)
(Mt 17:1–8; Lk 9:28–36; 2 Pet 1:16–18)
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
The Coming of Elijah
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
2 Corinthians 4:3–6 (NRSV)
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Living Beyond the Veil
One of the most annoying speeches that every child has ever heard when they embark on a much anticipated field trip has to be, “Remember when you are out there you represent your school.” I always wondered why they said that it was not like any of us really cared what reputation the school had. It was school that is it, we had to go and we finally got a chance to break free and live a little. Of course along with that speech came the realization that if we did misbehave we would not get to go on another fieldtrip for a very long time. But what do people see when they look at us?
Each of us though we are unique individuals, still reflect the community in which we live. We reflect the culture that our parents, our friends, our schools, our civic organizations, and our religious background have given us. We mirror the things that we have seen and as others come into our spheres of influence we reflect our culture onto them and then they in turn reflect it back. What do people see when they look at us?
Paul in today’s reading tells us something very profound. He speaks about a veil saying, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” Think about that for a moment. Initially we think that those that are perishing are the ones that cannot see, but that is not what he is saying he is saying even if our gospel is veiled. He is saying that we are being hidden, or more accurately we are hiding from those that are perishing. Covering the gospel, blending in to the culture around us, hiding, but why? Paul says that those in the world have an excuse, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” They are blind and unable to see the light, but this does not explain why we ourselves are veiled.
The veil is something that our culture does not fully understand, because the western world has done away with this practice, but there are cultures that would understand quite well what image Paul is trying to portray. We look at these cultures and we immediately judge them and begin to complain that they are mistreating a segment of their population, and to be honest I would probably agree with you because I live in a culture that does not appreciative the veil. But the veil is there for a purpose, to hide the beauty. To keep what is behind the veil secret from all but the one it is intended for. There is a barrier between the veiled and the revealed, a barrier that cuts off the opportunity of friendship because the one behind the veil is hidden from the outside.
The physical veil is not used in our culture but we still hide. We hide our true selves behind many different masks, we hide behind walls that shield ourselves from intimacy because we are afraid to be vulnerable. We keep our guard up, hoping that we can trick those that look at us into believing some sort of acceptable character of who we truly are. We hide because if someone really knew me then would they find me acceptable? Would they accept me if they knew I had struggles, would they love me if they knew my past, would they even talk to me if they knew what I really thought, would they like me if they knew me? Before we even give them a chance we cut them off, we live behind a veil.
Paul tells us, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” The danger of an individualistic society like ours is that there is such a strong desire to be seen in a good light. We want to stand on our own, we want to be seen as successful among whatever group we identify with. The funny thing about that is that within that very statement there is a paradox. We want to be individuals yet we want to be accepted within a community. We want be seen as successful in ourselves, yet under the standards of a community. Maybe we have gotten things a bit backward. We are unique individuals, gifted in various ways but it is the community that honors those gifts. Before we get all defensive, just think about it for a moment. If you have a million dollars but nowhere to spend it, and no one to share it with, you have nothing of value. Our currency and our ability to earn wealth only has value if we are living within a community. Outside of a community the only thing of value are the things that keep you alive: food, shelter, water, air. It is in a community that culture develops and that the uniqueness of individuals can be celebrated and honored. The ability to write a novel has no benefit without others who want to read, our businesses would have no meaning if there were not a community to buy our product or services. So what Paul is speaking about is that instead of focusing of ourselves we should focus on Jesus. Instead of using our uniqueness for our own gain we should use it to proclaim Christ.
This is the sticker though, if we do not use all that we have to proclaim Christ within the community, we are veiled and we are being ruled by the gods of this world. Veiled by definitions of success that have no meaning to Christ. Veiled by the desires of being accepted by others when Christ is calling us to do something totally different. Veiled by our culture and interoperating everything about ourselves through the eyes of that culture. Yes, we are veiled. When we focus our attention on things outside of Christ we are veiling the gospel, we are veiling it with ourselves and our desires instead of letting the light of Christ shine though us. We are stepping up to be the master of our universe instead of submitting to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Let us look now at the passage in Mark, where Jesus is up on the mountain with Peter, James and John. They went up there to pray in an isolated place because that is the rhythm of life that Jesus was trying to teach them and during that time of prayer something amazing happened. There with Jesus the disciples saw Moses and Elijah standing beside him and Jesus was dressed in garments that were whiter than human hands had the ability to bleach. They were shocked and amazed, they did not know how to even begin to grasp what was going on around them. So Peter pipes up because he has this annoying habit of having to speak in awkward situations. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, let us build three tents…” There are veiled words coming out of Peter’s mouth. Words that reflect the culture and the community that he is wishing to impress. Jesus is there standing with Moses and Elijah and Peter says Rabbi, teacher let us build tents and stay here.
We may not catch it immediately. Moses is seen by the culture as being the great law giver, the first and most important of all the rabbis. It was through Moses that the very first teachings of God were given to the tribes of Israel, the first interpretations of greater meaning which allowed them to build a community and thrive as a culture. Moses is the greatest of men. Then there is Elijah. This is the greatest of all the prophets, whose name means my God is Yahweh. Elijah challenged the false gods of the world, called fire down from heaven to prove that God is God, and was carried up to heaven without tasting death. Moses gave them faith, Elijah defended their faith. Moses establish a people, Elijah preserved and saved the people. The greatest of men together, one represents the law, the other the prophets. These two men define the faith of Israel. So Peter sees this and begins to think Jesus is equal to these men let us build on this.
Peter was looking at this through the eyes of the culture Jesus is equal to Moses, the law, and equal to Elijah the prophet the third great era of Jewish history is about to begin building on the law and the prophets. Though this is not entirely wrong it is not exactly what the scene was showing. Moses and Elijah were standing there talking with Jesus. Moses the Law giver was speaking with Jesus. Elijah the great prophet was speaking to Jesus. They were praying, seeking the advice and council of Jesus, not Jesus seeking guidance from them. It was Moses and Elijah that came to meet Jesus on that mountain. You might say but they were dead for centuries how could they have been speaking to Jesus, but that is the true mystery. When we enter in prayer we enter into the realm of God which is not bound by the same dimensions of man. What these three disciples were seeing that day was the divine nature of Jesus. But they were unable to see through the veils before their eyes, and they assumed equality with men, not equality with God was being revealed to them. So when Peter spoke God rebuked. “This is my Son, the Beloved; Listen to Him.”
The veils we live behind are defined by our culture but Paul is calling us to partake of a different kind of culture. Instead of cultures defined by the gods of the world, a culture defined by the one true God who created the heavens and the earth. And God is telling the disciples and us to listen. Moses sought the council of Jesus and from that council the nation was establish, but mankind did not fully follow and they began to listen to the gods of the world. They twisted and perverted the words of God to such a degree that it became necessary for the prophets to emerge to set things right. Elijah sought the council of Jesus because he felt alone in a world that rejected God. From the teaching of both these men, the rabbinical Jewish faith that was seen in Jesus day emerged after it grew in exile. Both versions of the faith began very similar there was an awakening of faith and people responded but over time veils emerged and interpretations began to twist and turn until the faith that was once so powerful coming from the very mouth of God began to look as dark as the world it was created to redeem. Then Jesus came saying that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Calling us to follow Him. On that mountain we were not called to follow just another great teacher but to follow God Himself.
So why do we live behind veils? Jesus, God Himself, came showing us the life and lifestyle he created us to live in. I life of worship, prayer, and service to others. Yet we live behind veils. Do we not believe that Jesus can redeem? Do we not believe that Jesus can save and reconcile the world to himself? Do we not trust that he can do what he promises to do? Will we not entrust our lives to the one that can conquer the sting of death? The veils we live behind speak volumes of the culture we wish to reflect, cultures that are ruled by the gods of the world: god that have taken on different names but they still remain the same, gods of war, gods of greed, gods of sensuality. Elijah stood against those gods and said “My God is the one true God.” Moses stood against those gods and demanded that his people be released from bondage. These two men met Jesus on that mountain across the dimensions of time, and God tells us listen to him. Drop the veils and become a people of God. A people that is defined by loving Him and loving their neighbor. A people that desires to participate in the lifestyle He himself lived with us, a lifestyle of worship, prayer, and service. A lifestyle loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. It is not ourselves but Jesus that we should reflect, it is not our culture but the culture of Christ that we should seek to reflect and expand. Let us let that light shine in the darkness.