Musing 2.12.21

MUSING 2.12.2021

This coming Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. The gospel text is always an account in Matthew, Mark, or Luke of the transfiguration of Jesus. This year the text is Mark 9:2-9. To refresh our memories briefly, Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John goes up a mountain. While Jesus is praying, he is transfigured (transformed); his clothes become dazzling white, and Elijah and Moses appear and talk with him. A cloud overshadows them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” The three disciples are terrified by all this – as would we. Then the cloud evaporates, and Moses and Elijah disappear. Things return to normal. As I summarize the story, I realize how extraordinary it is, and how much it begs for clarification.

The story is appropriately placed before the beginning of Lent when we mark Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross. His transfiguration, his appearing in glory, is a foretaste of his resurrection. It must be greatly reassuring for him to know how things will end. The vision of Easter will sustain him in his suffering.

One more puzzling part of the story is what is called “the messianic secret.” “As they (Jesus and the three disciples) were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Why should the disciples not share this wonderful experience with everyone? Wouldn’t it attract followers to Jesus? Why keep it a secret that Jesus is God’s beloved Son?

Here’s my thinking on the secret. When Susan and I watch a movie, it is not uncommon for one of us to fall asleep soon after it starts. As it ends, the one who slept will ask the one who stayed awake what happened. The story will be summarized in a few words, “They got married.” Both of us know the ending, but only one of us fully experienced the movie. It is the one who didn’t skip to the end; it is the one was with it from beginning to end.

Recall the classic movie An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Yes, it ends with them re-united, but we need the first two hours of encounter, courtship, romance, separation, tragedy, rejection, suffering, rehabilitation, discovery, and forgiveness to give meaning to the ending. It is the experience of the story that draws us into the ending. To skip the story and go directly to the ending is to lessen the impact of the ending and its influence on us. I doubt that the person who watches only the last five minutes will be moved to tears as will be the one who watched the whole movie. We need the story, the whole story.

The point of the messianic secret is to ensure that we experience the whole story. If we skip to the end, the resurrection; we tell the secret ending. But we miss the story. We miss the encounters, confrontations, failure, rejection, debates, lessons, betrayals, foregiveness, healings, love, desertion, and death. It is the experience of the story that gives the ending its meaning and impact. It is the story that draws us in. It is true that both the person who skips the story and the person who follows entire story know the ending. It is, however, the latter who understands fully what is going on and has integrated it into their life.

I see the messianic secret as a Spoiler Alert. Had the disciples told the secret, people would have been tempted not to follow and experience Jesus. There would have been no need to be in relationship with Jesus. If they knew the answer, why work on the solution? If the student finds the answer in the back of the book, he doesn’t need to learn the subject. Knowing the ending can be a way of not learning the subject. In the case of Jesus, it is a way to avoid discipleship. When one avoids discipleship, one misses the joy of resurrection. It is the following that integrates Jesus and the resurrection into one’s life.

Lent is the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross which ends in the resurrection. We know how the story ends. Yet Lent is our time experience the whole story. Lent is a good time to re-read the story in one of the gospels. We know how they end, but we need the whole story.

Be safe and well.