Whenever I need some perspective, I try to head up a mountain. But in the absence of a mountain, downtown Vancouver comes with it’s share of rooftop patios. Sometimes you take what you can get.
The thing is, just because I’m seeking perspective doesn’t mean I always find clarity. There’s always a tradeoff.
I remember the first time I came to BC. It was January 2004, and I’d just finished my first nine months as a corporate communicator after finishing my undergrad. I was pushing 60 & 70 hour weeks. I was exhausted.
And so I went seeking a mountaintop experience with a list of things I needed to figure out. I expected that my time visiting friends in Vancouver, hiking the north shore mountains, and riding my snowboard at Whistler would give me precisely what I needed.
It did. And it didn’t. In the end, I was left with more questions than answers.
Which is to say that I can find myself – in what I imagine to be – the disciples’ headspace when they get up the mountain with Jesus. Earlier on, Jesus called the disciples together and sent them out, giving them power and authority over demons, to cure diseases, to proclaim the Kingdom of God, to inaugurate the new creation, and to bring healing.
He sent them into the life that he was committed to living. He sent them into the life and the world that he proclaimed and embodied amongst the people.
Jesus sent the disciples, and he sends us to live reconciling lives – radical lives of hospitality, justice and mercy that in word and in practice seek to obliterate the lines that divide us from God, from Creation, and from one another.
And Jesus sends us to welcome them into communities like ours who hold central a gospel whose offense and scandal as Rachel Held Evans puts it, “isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.”
And you know what? That work can be damned hard. And it’s even harder when you’re sent out to do it on your own. And it’s even harder when you’re sent out with nothing except yourselves. No media strategy, no advanced pressers. No staff, or bag, or bread, or money. Not even an extra tunic.
They head out and come back to Jesus, reporting on all that they had done. There’s a lot to tell. They try once to go on retreat, but Rivendell is fully booked, and instead find themselves surrounded by crowds hungry for more Jesus. Jesus offers them bread, and then he offers them food from heaven.
As Marnie put it last week, “Jesus makes the connection for them: I’m it, he says, you’ve got me.”
God help any introverted disciple who had been hoping for a nap, a good book, or just a few moments of quiet to begin to process this relentless human interaction. The moment comes eventually, but not before Jesus feeds the crowds and the disciples too.
High atop the mountain, away from everyone, we get an even more detailed picture of what’s happening here. Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah. But not just joined by them.
Jesus is in conversation with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets as he’s always been. And together they’ve hatched a bit of a plan of how through Jesus, God’s people might leave exile and enter the promised land of a new creation.
From the very beginning, Jesus’ mission and prophetic kingdom announcement are about Israel’s return from exile, the defeat of evil, and the return of Yahweh’s healing covenant to Zion. It’s about the restoration and renewal of God’s longstanding covenant with Israel.
And while the religious leaders rattle on about who’s in and who’s out, Jesus discards the false dichotomy between honour and shame, powerful and powerless, worthy and unworthy by calling each and every one beloved. You, me, all of us. Beloved.
And Jesus invites us to join him in this kingdom of misfits. This community of people who, like Jesus’ first disciples, can’t quite get their shit together.
In this mountaintop moment as heaven and earth intersect, we are meant to understand that the fulfillment of God’s covenant, and the glory of God is made manifest in Jesus himself.
Prolific New Testament Scholar NT Wright puts it this way:
“Shining in splendour, talking with Moses and Elijah, [Jesus draws] the Law and the Prophets together into the time of fulfillment.” (Simply Jesus 143)
Wright goes on to suggest:
“What the story of Jesus on the mountain demonstrates, for those with eyes to see or ears to hear, is that, just as Jesus seems to be the place where God’s world and ours meet, where God’s time and ours meet, so he is also the place where, so to speak, God’s matter – God’s [Kingdom], God’s new creation – intersects with ours.” (Simply Jesus, 144)
Jesus is the place where God’s world and our world intersect. And yet, you can bet that the disciples didn’t realise that the Jesus they’ve been journeying with all along is, himself, the thin space they were seeking.
Peter betrays this when he wants to build up his gated mountain community and settle in. Sometimes it takes a mountain to be sent back into the holiness of everyday life. Sometimes it takes a mountain to recognize the truth, the beauty, the gift that’s been guiding us all along.
But we can’t stay on the mountain forever.
Before Peter’s able to take a selfie with Jesus and his buds, a thick fog rolls in to obscure the shot. Instead of an immortalized moment sure to pile up the likes, all he’s left with is an echoing voice:
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”
And this is the part I find most challenging. This is the part this introvert finds both deeply comforting and highly maddening. Jesus says absolutely nothing until the next day. Nothing at all until they get down off the mountain. What on earth did the disciples do with those words? How did they understand them?
As for this disciple, as for me, the voice from the clouds causes my mind to wander back to the words that inaugurate Jesus’ ministry in the earliest chapters of Luke’s gospel:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4:18-19)
These words are followed by several more: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
When the clouds clear, all we’re left with is all we ever had. Our relationships with Jesus, with each other, and with God’s expansive, beautiful creation. And we are invited once again, in the spirit of the law and the prophets, and in the spirit of Jesus, to join together in the work and ministry of reconciliation.
It may not be a mountain top, but I can’t think of any better place to be.