The transfiguration is a part of the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – but it’s also alluded to in John in passing - particularly in John chapter 12 verse 28 – ‘Father, glorify your name!' Then a voice came from heaven, 'I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’
So, we know that it’s an important story. It also occurs within the last period of Jesus’ ministry before he is betrayed, arrested, and crucified, and marks a turning point in the way the disciples see Jesus. There is a marked change in who Jesus is to the disciples – from teacher and prophet to possible messiah - but the confirmation comes through the transfiguration. The voice of God makes it clear – ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ (Matthew 17:5-6). Reminiscent of what he said when Jesus was baptised.
In this story, God calls us to listen to Jesus – that’s all he asks. It’s simple. Even the two greatest commandments, love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself, are on paper, fairly simple. But obviously, when put into practice it’s a lot harder than it seems.
One of the most radical things Jesus calls us to do is to love our neighbour. But often times we only love our neighbour if we deem them worthy of our love. It is easy to pray for the poor, those experiencing homelessness, those in hospital, or in war zones. It’s a lot harder to pray for those we don’t love, like politicians, prisoners, parking inspectors and those struggling with addiction.
Yet Jesus comes to live and eat with and love all of these people. We live in an increasingly partisan society, where it has become more and more difficult to love the people we disagree with. Loving our neighbour sometimes looks like not engaging in an argument in the comments section of a Facebook post. Or reaching out to someone on the other side of the political divide. Or not picking a fight with the council worker over the phone because you got a parking ticket. They aren’t huge actions or great displays of love, but they make a difference, and through them we are transfigured.
The transfiguration confirms Jesus as the son of God, and God commands us to listen to him. Even when it doesn’t feel like a magical encounter with the sacred. Even when it sucks and we really want to just yell at someone. Even when we have to climb back down the mountain. Because we aren’t Christians just on Sundays, or at Easter. We’re Christians as a full-time job. Theological scholar Rachel Held Evans writes in her book, ‘Searching for Sunday’, ‘This is what God's kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there's always room for more.’
Held Evans, Rachel (2015), ‘Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church,’ Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
A classic gathered community of relatives and friends, grieving together, illuminates the humanity that binds us all. Grieving and sorrowing also disturbs our perspective – brokenness and blame, belief and benevolence.
Let me try to sum it up and describe it in this way. Beginner’s mind is a readiness to always be in awe, to always be excited. We see it in children and in people who don’t filter everything through the brain. Beginner’s mind is one’s mind before the hurts of life have made us cautious and self-protective.
Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, to make it bear even more.’ (John 15:1–2)