On Transfiguration Sunday we recall the event recorded in Mark 9 (and Matthew 17 and Luke 9). Jesus took his closest disciples to the mountaintop where they witnessed his dramatic physical change and the appearance of their Old Testament heroes, and heard God’s proclamation over Jesus. On the Sunday before Lent—the season when, with Jesus, we will turn our attention to the coming crucifixion and resurrection—we pause with the disciples and pay attention. With the disciples, we remember that we do not know everything about Jesus. We remember that we may never fully understand all there is to know.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells people not to go around talking about the teachings and miracles they have witnessed. Scholars of Mark call this theme the “Messianic secret.” There are many reasons Jesus may not want news of his identity spreading far and wide… just yet. But in all three Gospels that tell the transfiguration story, Jesus instructs the disciples who have witnessed this amazing event not to tell anyone about it. If Peter, James, and John follow this instruction to the letter, they will not even tell the other nine disciples!
I wish we knew why Jesus doesn’t want Peter, James, and John talking about the transfiguration. I wish Jesus would explain himself. (I imagine Peter, James, and John wish the same thing!) I was raised in a religious tradition where “go ye therefore and teach all nations” was considered the single most important thing we could do. The idea of knowing Jesus, receiving his teaching, experiencing his miracles, and witnessing his incredible power and glory and then not telling anyone seems almost absurd.
Maybe Jesus knew these three disciples were too stunned to talk; maybe they needed time to reflect and debrief among themselves. Maybe he meant for this experience to remain private; maybe the glory of the transfiguration would be dismissed or diffused by putting it into human language. Or maybe the shocking wonder of it would distract the disciples from living in the real world away from the mountaintop. Maybe not telling allows them to keep “all these things” and ponder in their hearts, the way Jesus’s mother did at his birth (Lk 2:20).
As we pause with the disciples before Lent begins, there is a deep quiet after the transfiguration of Jesus. Maybe we need this time of pondering before we even think of going and telling. There is a long road ahead. We need to pay attention, to quiet our hearts and minds (and mouths). There will be so much to tell, when it is time—but first, we have so much to learn.
- What has the role of “evangelism”—or going and telling people about Jesus—been in your faith life?
- Has there ever been a time when you sensed that you should not tell about Jesus? Why did you feel that way?
- Have you ever experienced something so amazing about Jesus that you could not talk about it right away? How did you reflect and ponder on that experience? Did you ever tell anyone? What prompted you to do so?
- As we get ready for the season of Lent, leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, how do the events of the transfiguration cause you to pause?
- What aspects of Jesus’s glory and power, or of his beloved Sonship, will you hold close and ponder during the coming season?
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary. Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.