Sometimes the story is not all that important, except as “backstory” for what is to come, or for the point that is to be made.
One of the most popular commercials from last week’s “Superbowl” brought that to mind as we heard again the sonorous voice of Paul Harvey in the “God Made A Farmer” ad for Dodge trucks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHjV-FPMm_I
Paul Harvey had a signature sound, and style as a radio personality, most often remembered for his “The Rest of the Story” pieces. In those audio essays he would talk about the actions of an individual, explaining what they were doing it and how they had accomplished something, and then at the very end would give you the person’s name, which made you wonder and marvel at the twists and turns of life.
And you may wonder what that has to do with this Gospel, the story of the transfiguration?
Well surely you have heard this story preached upon and commented upon over the years. The details of Moses and Elijah appearing on the mountaintop, the booming voice of God commanding “This is my Son, listen to him!” The bewildered disciples who there with Peter spouting out something about” booths” and wondering what to do next?
It is an interesting story, but in some respects not all that important except as a back story to what comes next, it is that “next” that I want to focus on today, the “rest of the story.”
That “next” day, when they come down from the mountain, and having been told by God to listen to Jesus, what we then hear Jesus say.
And what do we hear Jesus say? “You faithless and perverse generation, how long must I be with you and bear with you?”
See, I really don’t want to listen to Jesus say that about me, about us.
That sounds like a Jesus that just can’t wait to get out of here.
It brings to mind every boring or tension filled meeting that I have ever had to sit through, where I just couldn’t wait to hear the words of dismissal so that I could slink out.
It conjures up in me the bad movie, the awful play, the concert that is too loud or stylistically difficult, or the sermon that is too boring that makes me want to head for the door.
“How long must I be with you, and bear with you?”
And on one level, I understand those words of Jesus just a little better because of the Transfiguration, because of that “back story” if you will.
I can well imagine that after the meeting with Moses and Elijah, after hearing once again the sound of his Father’s voice, Jesus may have longed for home. Jesus may have longed for a return to a place, well, where this kind of thing doesn’t happen!
“Teacher, I beg you, look at my Son….”
No sooner is Jesus down from the mountain than he is confronted with desperation, and the demonic, and the difficulties that this world has a way of throwing one’s way.
How much nicer it must have been up there, away from all of this.
But now here it is again thrown into Jesus’ face. Here comes this world with all of its demands, all of its brokenness, all of its sickness, disappointment and inexplicable events.
Not a moment’s respite from it.
And so, wading back into it, back into this world again, Jesus utters the nearest thing to a curse that I can think of. “You faithless and perverse generation, how long must I be with you and bear with you?”
I can understand this.
But this isn’t all Jesus says.
This Jesus (whom I am supposed to listen to, but who I don’t want to listen to if he’s going to sound like this to me) goes on. He goes on to say to the desperate man, “Bring your son here.”
Jesus goes on to rebuke the unclean spirit, and to heal the boy, and to send him back to his father.
If Jesus called us a “Faithless and Perverse generation”, I wonder what choice words he had for that demon to send him packing? No one bothered to record them, or maybe they couldn’t be written down in polite company.
At any rate, this Jesus whom we are supposed to listen to speaks the words that bring healing and life and restoration to the desperation of this man.
And, as all are astounded at the greatness of God, and amazed at what Jesus is doing, Jesus speaks again to his disciples.
He says to them, “Let these words sink into your ears…”
Now, I don’t know about you but whenever someone puts something to me like that, I have another picture in my mind that comes forward.
It’s the picture of an exasperation of a parent with a child, “what part of “No” don’t you understand?”
It’s the picture of the frustrated professor who goes over the lecture point for the third time because clearly SOMEBODY wasn’t paying attention.
Again, this is a Jesus that I am not really sure I want to listen to, for the tone in his voice sounds a little on edge.
“Let these words sink into your ears:” He says, “The Son of man is going to be betrayed into human hands.”
Again, I don’t really want to hear that, because look at these, look at yours…. Those are human hands!
Rolf Jacobson, Old Testament professor at Luther Seminary in commenting on this story lifted up an intriguing observation.
Because of the way the bible editors put commentary titles on the stories, we sometimes forget to look at things differently, so for a long time I’ve always thought of this as what the editor labeled it.
This is a “Passion Prediction”… Jesus talking about what is to befall him in Jerusalem, how he will be betrayed and on the third day rise again.
But what if this isn’t a prediction of a single event so much as it is an observation of how it is things happen, always seem to happen.
Jesus spends his time on the Mountaintop of Transfiguration, with Moses and Elijah, and for that brief time as he hears his Father’s voice he is with those who understand and support the exodus that he is on, his journey outward from the Galilee to Jerusalem, his proclamation of God’s Kingdom that has now come near.
They understand and support what Jesus is accomplishing.
But now after those backstory events, Jesus returns to the faithless and the perverse, and what happens at their hands is more often than not betrayal of God’s intentions for this world.
Is this what is going to happen? We are afraid to ask! Are these hands going to do it, do it all over again? Betray the Son of man with their actions, or their inaction, or their lack of compassion, or their proclivity toward grasping at things for personal gain, and holding on to what seems to slip between the fingers?
Are these hands going to betray Jesus? Yes. But that does not stop Jesus from working anyway.
In fact, this is the way God of the Exodus has always worked.
The God of the Exodus didn’t skirt the suffering of God’s people.
The God of Exodus confronted the power of Pharoah, and took his people out of it, by taking them through it. You have to go through the plagues, not around them.
You have to go through the sea, not around it.
You have to go through the wilderness, not around it.
And now Jesus, in his exodus in this world does not make his way by avoiding confrontation with pain, suffering, desperation or the demonic.
No, you have to go through it, not around it, and so Jesus dives back into this world to heal and cast out demons and restore health. He says “bring your son here” and once again shows his disciples what they are to do, to continue to do with their own hands after he has completed his exodus.
“Let these words sink into your ears:” Jesus says, “The Son of man is going to be betrayed into human hands.”
This is the way it is going to be until the Kingdom is established in its fullness.
Human hands will betray, but it is with human hands that God has chosen his lot.
Human hands will betray, but Jesus will make his way to Jerusalem anyway, and to the cross, and although betrayed by human hands will overcome that betrayal to show us a way get busy with our hands until the Kingdom in its fullness. Until, in fact, we help to bring in that Kingdom with the actions of these hands. Oh, we don’t bring it in alone, or of our own accord or power, but every time our hands choose to work for the Kingdom instead of to betray it, it inches a little bit closer.
Sometimes the story is not all that important, except as “backstory” for what is to come, or for the point that is to be made. What happens in the Transfiguration is back story to the point Jesus makes among us, a perverse and faithless generation.
We are the ones whose hands betray.
We are the ones whose hands God has also chosen help to bring in the Kingdom.
And now you know, the rest of the story, because in the end what happens after the Transfiguration is very much your story.