Heavenly Glory and Earthly Bumbling

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Luke 9:33

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is, to be sure, one of the strangest in the Gospels. There is much in this story that stretches our understanding and challenges our visual imagination. For a brief moment, we see Jesus in his full heavenly glory, even as his conversation with Moses and Elijah focuses on his “exodus” from this world, which is to say, his death and subsequent resurrection and ascension.

Yet in the midst of this other-worldly grandeur, we observe all-too-earthly bumbling. Not surprisingly, Peter is the bumbler. First, after Jesus had taken him, along with James and John, up on a mountain to pray, Peter and his associates fell asleep. When they awoke, they saw Jesus in glowing glory, talking with Moses and Elijah. Peter, still wiping sleep from his eyes, was stunned. So when Moses and Elijah appeared to be leaving, he blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!” (9:33). Luke adds that Peter didn’t even know what he was saying!

Before Jesus and his visitors were able to respond to Peter’s offer, a cloud enveloped them, terrifying Peter and his colleagues. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (9:35). After that, Moses and Elijah vanished, leaving Jesus in his ordinary garb.

I am so glad the Gospel writers portray this scene, not only because of what it reveals about Jesus, but also because of its picture of Peter. For one thing, the fact that Peter, a major leader in the early church, is shown to be so bumbling confirms the historical accuracy of this account. If the Gospel writers weren’t committed to telling the truth, you’d expect them to clean up their account of Peter. Beyond this, I am reassured by the portrayal of Peter’s bumbling because I am so much like him. So often in my life, as God has made himself known to me in powerful ways, I haven’t quite known what to do. Like Peter, I have spoken without thinking. I too have babbled away when reverent silence would have been appropriate. I too have acted hastily rather than wisely.

Yet, Jesus did not say to Peter, “You fool! What has gotten into you?” Nor did Jesus fire Peter from his crucial job in the early church. Jesus did not demand perfection or even astuteness from his disciples. Rather, he took them as they were, teaching, training, and shaping them. In time, he would fill even Peter the bumbler with his Spirit, empowering him to preach the first Christian sermon and to lead the earliest Christian community. If Jesus can use Peter, he can use me . . . and you too.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What does the transfiguration show us about Jesus? How do you respond to Peter’s activity in this story? Have you ever felt like a bumbler in your efforts to serve the Lord?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, this story helps me to see you in a new way. For just a moment, your heavenly glory shines, revealing more of your unique nature as fully God and fully human. Thank you for this foretaste of things to come.

I also thank you, Lord, for the all-too-real portrayal of Peter. How glad I am that Luke and the other Gospel writers didn’t tidy up this picture. Peter’s bumbling gives me hope, Lord, because I can be just like him. I too can speak and act without thinking. I too can be unsure how to respond to you when you reveal yourself to me in new ways. Yet, it’s clear from this story and others like it that you do not reject bumblers from your retinue. I don’t have to get it all right in order to follow you. Thank you for your patience and for seeing in me more than I am today.

All praise, glory, and honor be to you, Lord Jesus! Amen.