One day, Joe, Bob, and Dave were hiking in the wilderness when they came upon a large, raging, river. They needed to get to the other side, but had no idea how to do it.
Joe prayed to God, saying, "Please God, give me the strength to cross this river."
Poof! God gave him big arms and strong legs. He was able to swim across the river in about two hours, although he almost drowned a couple of times.
Seeing this, Dave prayed to God, saying, "Please God, give me the strength and the tools to cross this river."
Poof! God gave him a rowboat and he was able to row across the river in about an hour, after almost capsizing the boat a couple of times.
Bob had seen how this worked out for the other two, so he also prayed to God saying, "Please God, give me the strength and the tools, and the intelligence, to cross this river."
Poof! God turned him into a woman. She looked at the map, hiked upstream a couple of hundred yards, then walked across the bridge.
I love hiking, but I I’ve never had an experience quite like that! When I’m out there in the beauty of creation, walking for miles, hour upon hour, it’s incredibly peaceful, and I find myself doing a lot of thinking and praying. I especially love hiking in the mountains, getting to the top, and walking along the ridges. I find that I do a great deal of praying when on a mountain.
In encountering God on the mountain I’m in good company. On Mt. Horeb Moses encountered God in the burning bush that wasn’t consumed. Moses also went up on Mt. Sinai and spent forty days and forty nights. It was there that God gave him the Ten Commandments.
Elijah went up on Mt. Horeb to encounter God. On Mt. Horeb Elijah didn’t hear God in the wind or in the earthquake or in the fire, but in a still, small voice. God said to Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I’ve been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with a sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away.” It was on that mountain that Elijah discerned what God wanted him to do. God calmed his fears, assured him that there were others who had not forsaken him, and gave him the direction he needed.
Likewise, hundreds of years later our Lord took three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, up on a mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, those disciples witnessed Jesus with Moses, the Law-Giver, and Elijah, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about his impending suffering and death.
This was truly an epiphany for Peter, James, and John. They knew Jesus was the Messiah. Peter had recently confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. What that meant exactly, no one knew at that time. Now Jesus is seen with the two greatest figures in the history of Israel, Moses and Elijah. Peter’s response was to make a memorial right there on the mountain. He proposed that they build three booths, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. He most likely came up with that idea because of the Jewish festival of the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles, in which the Israelites commemorated annually the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai to Moses. But what was happening on this mountain was not the giving of a new law, but a much greater reality.
And then they heard the voice of God: “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him,” and when they heard that revelation, Moses and Elijah had disappeared. Only Jesus remained.
What are the lessons for us of the Transfiguration? First, it was a revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, and so it calls for a response, not only from Peter, James, and John, but also from all who would come after them and hear of this theophany.
Second, it’s another example of Jesus as a man of prayer. There’s no one closer to God than Jesus. In fact, he is God. Yet he needed prayer and regularly sought out times to be with his heavenly Father in prayer. Jesus sets the example for all of us to pray frequently and regularly.
Third, prayer didn’t take the difficulties of this life away from Jesus. In fact, this event served as a preparation for the ordeal he was to face in his suffering and death. We often view prayer as an attempt to escape the difficulties we face, and sometimes God does give us that. But more often, prayer leads us to deeper levels of commitment, taking us into the fray, rather than out of it.
You see, in prayer one of the things that happens is that we begin to see things from God’s point of view, rather than from our own. Are you having trouble in your marriage? Take it to God in prayer. But don’t think that God’s going to say, “If you’re having some problems, then you should get out of the marriage. After all, I want you to be happy.”
Divorce is a very complex issue, and there are times when divorce is the lesser of two evils. But divorce is certainly not where God is going to begin. He’s much more likely to say, “Work at it. That’s what your vows are for. Remember, you said ‘For better, for worse.’”
Jesus is revealed as God’s Son. He gives us the example of a life grounded in prayer, and just because we pray doesn’t mean life’s going to get easier. It might just get harder. God wants us to be happy, but true happiness can only come from living according to his will. When we do that, we experience that peace that passes understanding.
You and I don’t have to go hiking up a mountain to meet God on the mountaintop. We’re on the mountaintop right now. He gives us this opportunity not only for our own good, but for the purpose of sending us into the world in witness to him. That may not always take us to comfortable places, but it will give us peace.