This isn’t the Mountain Top (Commentary on Matthew 17: 1-9)

This moment should’ve changed everything.

Peter, James, and John see Moses and Elijah.

Peter wants to build three tents for Moses, who delivered the Israelites from Egypt, for Elijah, the great Prophet of Israel, and Jesus, the Son of God.

Peter, James, and John hear the voice of God. They bow and cower in fear as God’s presence encompasses them in a cloud with a booming voice all around them. “This is my Son, the Beloved.”

They see Jesus, shining like the sun around them, reminiscent of Moses coming down from Sinai.

This is the moment that should have changed everything. This should have been the moment where Peter, James, and John, fully get it.

They should know forever that Jesus is the Son of God, the Beloved, the Holy One. They should know that he is the Messiah, the one that all of Israel has been waiting for. He is the one that will deliver Israel, deliver the world, because he is the Chosen one of God.

This is the moment when they should be changed and transformed forever!

But, they aren’t. The disciples see it all before them but in just a few chapters, they will forget what they have seen. They will turn Jesus over to the Roman soldiers, watch him stand trial, and watch him die. The disciples will hide in fear. Peter will deny that he even knows Jesus three times, even after all he has seen and heard.

The mountain top experience.

At my seminary, we call it our “call story.” In some traditions, it’s called the “come to Jesus moment” or the day that a person is “saved.”

The mountain top experience. It is the moment, or series of events in which it is so clear that God is present in your life. It is as though God’s light is shining all around you, and you are so sure that nothing will ever separate you from this awareness of God. Nothing will shake your faith. Nothing will ever make you doubt.

From that moment forward, you pledge to be the greatest Christian there has ever been and that you have been transformed and nothing can ever change that. Like Peter, you may see the beauty of the moment and you want to take a picture of it, build shrine for it, capture the magic of that moment forever.

And then someone cuts you off in traffic and you forget everything that you just said.

Like the disciples, some of us have climbed the mountain and we have seen the light, we have seen God in that one incredible moment in our life (or multiple moments), clear as the sun in the sky. But, like the disciples, we try to hold onto that moment and we can never quite get that feeling back.

And so, we may not come down off the mountain easily but instead we fall… hard. And we quickly end up worrying about ourselves or the things around us and Jesus moves to the back of our minds.

Some of us, may have never even had a mountain top experience at all and it feels like we were left down at the bottom with the other disciples, having no idea what other people are talking about with visions and seeing God or being changed or transformed.

For many Christians, the mountain top experience, the call story, seems so critical to who we are. Without it, where is God in our lives? It seems that we must have this transformational moment in our lives in order to say that we are truly Christian and that we truly know who Jesus is.

During my candidacy process, I had an advisor who would always give me the same advice after every meeting that I had with him. He would say, “The more time that passes, the harder it will be to see God in our call stories. Those stories cannot sustain us. It is only experiencing the death and resurrection of Christ every day that will sustain us and carry us through.”

It has taken me a very long time to ponder those words and think about what they really mean. But, I think that I have finally come to understand them just a little more… after all this time.

The transfiguration is not the mountain top. My call story is not the mountain top. These moments are not the mountain top that saves us or makes us into the perfect Christian.

The mountain top that really matters is Golgotha. It is the place that they called the Skull. The mountain top that really matters is on top of a hill outside of Jerusalem. The mountain top that will sustain us isn’t as beautiful as shining white light or filled with prophets of old.

The mountain top that saves us, that sustains us, is the lonely, dark hill of Good Friday.

It is Christ, the beloved, with arms extended, hanging from the cross, pierced in the side. The mountain top experience isn’t the one that looks the prettiest and makes us feel good. The true mountain top experience, is the one that shows us the unrelenting love of God.

It is in the moment of the cross where we see God, who loves us so much, despite how we fall and forget, suffer and die on a cross in order that we are transformed.

In Christ’s death and resurrection, we are transformed and changed, freed to feel the love of God. To not be burdened by our failures and mistakes but to give them to God so that we let God’s light shine on us and free us to be the people of God.

This is the mountain top of our faith. This is the real transfiguration. It is Christ’s open arms on the cross. It is the open tomb and the stone rolled away.

That is where we are transfigured and transformed.


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