Best of Daily Reflections: Mountaintop Experiences Don’t Last
You faithless and corrupt people,” Jesus said, “how long must I be with you and put up with you?” Then he said to the man, “Bring your son here.”
Most people love mountaintop experiences. We delight in the feeling of being especially close to God. We remember with fondness times in our lives when God seemed especially real, when the barrier between ourselves and God seemed particularly “thin.” (Of course, you don’t have to be up on a mountain peak to have such an experience. Laity Lodge, the retreat center where I work, lies in a magnificent canyon carved by the Frio River. But we don’t tend to speak of “canyon bottom experiences” even at Laity Lodge.)
In Luke 9:28-36, Jesus had the ultimate mountaintop experience. While literally upon a mountain, he was transfigured, glowing with heavenly glory as he conversed with Moses and Elijah. Then, when a cloud covered the mountain, a voice proclaimed, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (9:36).
But mountaintop experiences don’t last, even for Jesus. After he descended from the mountain, he encountered a crowd of people that included a desperate man. This man cried out to Jesus for help with a son who was afflicted by an evil spirit. He had begged Jesus’ disciples to cast out the spirit, “but they couldn’t do it” (9:40). Their failure came in spite of the fact that Jesus had “given them power and authority to cast out demons and to heal all diseases” (9:1).
Jesus’ initial response to the frantic father is striking and unsettling: “You faithless and corrupt people...how long must I be with you and put up with you?” Given the context of this saying, it seems clear that Jesus was responding to the failure of his disciples to cast out the demon. Their lack of faith, which mirrored that of their whole generation, was wearisome for Jesus. He was getting tired of their persistent unbelief.
What a contrast! One moment, Jesus glows with heavenly glory, proclaimed by a heavenly voice to be the Son of God. The next moment, Jesus is frustrated by the lack of faith in his followers and lets them know about it. Even for Jesus, the mountaintop experience didn’t last. As I listen to people talk about their retreat experiences at Laity Lodge, I often hear a similar story. After particularly intimate and transformational encounters with God, they often go home to confront particularly distressing circumstances. It’s almost as if some Enemy had a plan to discourage them!
Notice, though, how Jesus responded to the father’s request. He did not let his discouragement guide his heart. Rather, he acted with mercy, rebuking the evil spirit and healing the boy (9:42). Disappointment did not keep Jesus from doing what he had been called to do. He was not governed by his emotions, either the highs or the lows. His ministry was not motivated by mountaintop experiences, but by his faithfulness in fulfilling his calling as God’s Son, the Chosen One.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever had an experience like that of Jesus in this passage, in which a mountaintop experience is followed by disappointing or discouraging events? Given that the emotional and spiritual highs of the mountaintop don’t last, how can you continue to live faithfully?
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, as I read this story, I am struck, first of all, by how much I relate to your experience. No, I haven’t been transfigured recently! But I have had spiritual highs that were immediately followed by unusual challenges or disappointments. Yes, our Enemy has been at work. Thus, I am reminded not to build my life around the mountaintop moments, but rather to choose to live faithfully in the trenches of daily life.
My second reaction to this story is to realize how much I am like the disciples who lacked the faith to cast the demon out of the afflicted boy. O Lord, I wonder how many times you have wanted to say about me, “You faithless and corrupt person, how long must I be with you and put up with you?” Forgive me, Lord, for my lack of faith, for the inconsistency of my obedience.
How I thank you that you have answered the question of “how long” in your mercy and grace. How long will you be with me? Always, until the end of the age and beyond. How long will you put up with me? Forever, because nothing in all creation can separate me from your love. In your love, I find the strength to press on, in spite of my failures. Thank you, dear Lord, for never letting go of me!
I pray in your holy and powerful name. Amen.