Gospel, Matthew

Oh, that Peter

(Transfiguration Sunday A, Matthew 17:1-9)

I don't do a lot of instant messaging, but there are a few friends I keep up with via Google Chat. Recently the "smiley" feature has been improved, and I suddenly saw myself looking at a "blockhead" smiley in response to something I typed that was not so smart, but well-meant.

And as I read this gospel lesson, I want to send Peter one of those smiling blockheads. There he is, up on the mystical mountain with his friends and his teacher, and they are in the middle of an amazing spiritual experience, a manifestation of Elijah and Moses, the transfiguring of Jesus who is suddenly shining like the sun and dressed in "dazzling white."

Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." (Matthew 17:4, NRSV)

O-kay, then. No matter how I read this story, no matter the gospel, this is the idea that grabs me. In the midst of all this spooky revelation, and there is more to come, Peter is trying to concretize it.

How human! How Peter-like! How bloody literal-minded!!!

And yet who can blame him for wanting to stay where heavenly lightning seems to be striking?

A moment later he will be cowering on the ground with his friends after hearing the voice of God:

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. (Matthew 17:5-6)

Well, who wouldn't be? We want a revelation from God, right up until we get one, usually. We're on the edge of something marvelous, we have a sense that THE TRUTH WILL BE REVEALED, and then we get more than we could have imagined, more than we are prepared to take, to hear, to see, to metabolize.

And so I picture them with knees of jelly, those disciples, as they were coming down the mountain, stomachs astir, minds trying desperately to grasp the details that we know someone held onto, because this story became part of our tradition. If I had been among them, I'm sure I would have been thinking, "Wait until I tell Sally! She'll help me understand what happened!" Just telling her will help, I would think.

But that is not to be, and this is one of the points of this story that scholars perhaps prefer to discuss, because it's less mystical:

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about
      the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
(Matthew 17:9)

Tell no one. Tell no one. Poor Peter, ready to develop the mountaintop with retreat homes for long-lost prophets! Tell no one.

So he came down the mountain, and he told no one, not right away. And when he got his right mind back again, when the Resurrection had taken place and the fear of Good Friday was behind him, he built a church.