We know Mark’s gospel was the first of the four canonical gospels to be written. It is a brief and fast-paced read.
The author intends for us to take in every detail and moment.
The gospel begins by introducing us to John the Baptist, who by verse nine is baptizing Jesus in the Jordan. In Mark’s version of the baptism, when Jesus comes up and out of the water, he alone witnesses something spectacular. The heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descended on him like a dove, while a voice from heaven said, just to him: ”You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”(1:10).
From there, Jesus retreated into the wilderness. When he reemerges, he does so as a leader of a movement. In this role he proclaims the good news of God’s love in his preaching, teaching, healing, and in the way he models being in relationship with society’s most vulnerable and marginalized. Seemingly everyone who encounters him comes to understand there is something special about Jesus. His disciples know he is a servant of God, a prophet, maybe something more.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain for some time away from their robust ministry. While together in this sacred space, Jesus takes on a blinding brightness. It is only then the disciples notice Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses.
These three disciples are in a state of shock, even terrified. Peter’s first reaction is to recognize the sacredness, the presence of the holy. He longs to do what we all tend to do when we encounter the holy--build a box or container or in this case dwellings--where the holy could remain forever.
Yet before Jesus could respond, a cloud moved into the space, making it difficult to see much of anything. From within the cloud came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (1:7)
This time when God calls Jesus, ‘my Son, the Beloved’...
Elijah and Moses heard.
In the overarching narrative of Mark’s gospel, this is a critical moment where the circle is widened. God has not only spoken directly to Jesus, but now has spoken to his inner circle. This was not just some wild and crazy experience that only Jesus can vouch for at his baptism. Those he loves the most have now heard from their Creator that Jesus is somehow both human and divine.
It did not need to make sense to ring true for the disciples. Nor does it really need to make sense to ring true for us. Like the disciples, we may have more questions than answers, and that's okay.
The aspect of this story that I find most powerful is actually the vulnerability shown by Jesus in the transfiguration. He takes his innermost circle with him for some sacred time apart. With God’s help, Jesus reveals the fullness of who he is. Jesus can let down his guard; be vulnerable; and share with those who understand him the most*.
It’s poignant that God did not transfigure Jesus in the feeding of the 5,000, or while he was teaching in the temple. This was not a public act meant for the people. This was a tender and private moment, for Jesus to name for his own beloved exactly what he has been holding onto all by himself.
Think about your own innermost circle. When one of your beloved has named something tender and private, as part of their ongoing journey of transformation. Maybe your beloved found the courage and the vulnerability to…
...express their gender or sexual identity.
...share a hope and dream they’ve been holding onto.
...reveal abuse or a decaying marriage.
...get brutally honest about the amount of racial reconciliation work they must do.
...admit just how empty their well is as we approach the one year anniversary of living in this pandemic.
The thing about being human is we need one another. Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, needed to share what was really happening with a few trusted friends. We may like to put on stoic faces and march ever onwards, but generally all we are doing is burying tender and sacred parts of who we are that God means for us to share with one another. To hold one another in support and friendship.
Some of you have probably seen the show Grey’s Anatomy, where the lead character routinely refers to another character as “My Person”. They were not childhood best friends. They met as residents in a surgical program and as different as they were from one another, found deep and lasting friendship.
We all need to be able to look at another human being and say, “You’re my person”. We need to ask our inner circle to join us and get real about what’s happening in our lives, just as we see Jesus model in the transfiguration.
Twelves months into this pandemic, it’s easy for us to give surface level answers when friends or family ask us how we are.
“Will be glad when this is over.”
What if this week we got honest with one person about what is happening in our own inner life? To share the burden we are carrying or the dream we are nurturing. Call one friend or zoom your inner circle. It’s easy to think we do not need to be so vulnerable.
Yet if even Jesus in all his full divinity and humanity needed to be vulnerable with a few close and trusted friends, surely we do as well. This kind of vulnerability and rigorous honesty is part of our own ongoing transformation. Without it our faith and growth can remain stagnant. In the coming week, I invite each of us to lean into our own inner circles. Find a time to connect virtually or in person, and share what’s really happening in our lives--the joys, the fears, the challenges, and the hopes. Amen.
*St. Stephen's introduced this idea in their weekly bible study reflection February 14, 2021, Last Sunday of Epiphany, Year B. This is a great weekly resource which I encourage folks to check out as part of ongoing scripture study.
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