2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. (Mark 9:2-10 ESV)
I’m not always the best reporter. Sometimes, when I’m sitting down to write a story, I find that there are questions I should have asked that I didn’t, and I either have to wing it — write my way around the glaring omission — or get on the phone and hope whoever it was I talked to gets back to me on time.
I think about this because of the awkwardness of the three disciples who travel up the mountain with Jesus. Peter doesn’t know what to say, so being hospitable around the risen dead — well, at least Moses died, and was buried, and is now somehow here; Elijah was taken bodily into heaven without dying first — strikes him as the best thing to say in the situation.
And when Jesus commands them to tell no one what they have seen until he has risen from the dead, the three disciples — already terrified — are far too frightened to ask him what he means.
They do what we all do — speculate among themselves what Jesus meant when he said risen from the dead, and hope they arrive at some kind of reasonable conclusion.
This is not a way to get answers. I know this after I sometimes am sitting with a scribbled quote wondering “what did this person mean when he or she said it,” and not being entirely sure, and not really wanting to do the work of getting clarity.
Tell no one what you have seen, Jesus says to Peter, James, and John. This spectacular event, the return of Moses and Elijah, the declaration from on high, “This is my Son; listen to him,” (a reiteration of what God spoke to Jesus when he was baptized in the Jordan River all the way back in Mark 1), all this seem to be an incredible revelation. Why keep silent about it? Why tell no one?
It is because, I think, that this second declaration of sonship, made to the three disciples, is not supposed to make sense outside of the entire story of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Son of Man, with whom the Father is well pleased.
Glory, sonship, the command to listen, none of it makes any real sense without what comes next — betrayal and suffering and death, followed by a rising that also leaves us terrified and perplexed.
And that also suggests that fear, confusion, and incomprehension are a part of this call, part of what it means to follow Jesus up the mountain, into the city, to join him in the upper room, to fall asleep with him in the garden, to linger — hopefully unseen — around the courtyard of the priests, to gather at the foot of the cross, and to wonder at the empty tomb.
It is okay to be frightened, confused, and to not know.
Because we are with Jesus.