From the very beginning of Mark, we’re compelled to listen. To the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, to the voice of God proclaiming at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” To listen to Jesus as he calls the disciples saying, “Follow me and I will transform your lives.” But after that it gets hard. Hard to know what to listen to and to figure out what Jesus means. He makes unclean spirits listen and be gone, heals the sick, lepers, the paralyzed and blind, in entire towns and regions, and He gets really popular. His followers listen to the demands of the people for more-"let’s stay and be celebrities." But Jesus says “Listen- we have other places to go.”
He gathers people to eat with him and listen to his teaching, while the powers that be and those who fear him, refuse to listen and try to get others to stop listening. Yet, he calls more disciples and transforms them to carry out his work, even though they’re not quite sure they get what they’re listening to. At one point, confused people wonder if maybe Jesus is really the devil. Rather than listen to him even his own family worries and tries to carry him away thinking he’s lost it. But he keeps teaching, sometimes in stories that begin by saying “Listen.”
After he commands a storm to listen, he asks his frightened disciples in the boat, “Why are you so scared? Haven’t you been listening? ” But his hometown rejects him, and the prophet who proclaimed him is killed. Maybe it is Jesus who should listen and lay low, but he goes on- feeding thousands, walking on water, healing not only Jews but others and continuing to say, “Listen.”
But is it any wonder, with all of the competing voices, the disciples whose lives are being transformed feel like they are racing to keep up? On any given day, you could never be sure where the road would go next. It’s hard to get what it’s all about.
Even though everything Jesus is doing is what he meant when he first got them to listen, saying-“follow me and we’ll transform lives.”
So Jesus does a reality check, asking them- “what’s the word on the street?” They repeat well what they’ve been listening to in the crowds. And he responds-“OK, but how closely have you been listening to ME? Who am I to YOU?” Peter proclaims, “You are the Messiah!” And given all the buzz-worthy events this ought to be the turning point. Now it'll be power and fame and glory. Stories that’ll be told in history-“Listen, as I tell you how we were with him in the early days. We took a chance and got in at the right time.”
Instead, Jesus says, “You’re right, this is the turning point, but listen-I will die because of this truth.” And this isn’t at all what they want to listen to.
This is the big picture of everything that happens leading up to what we hear in the Gospel this day. And given the disciples continual disconnect, Jesus could’ve decided to start over with better followers. Instead Jesus keeps leading and takes his closest ones up the mountain and there in the silence, transformation happens before their eyes. They see him with Moses and Elijah- so he isn’t one of them, and he’s blindingly bright. They’re baffled.
He looks like God, but they know if they look on God directly they’ll die. God needs to hide in a cloud or a bush or something. Perhaps nervously, Peter says “Hey! I’ve got an idea! Let’s stay here and hang out with Moses and Elijah. And Jesus, did I mention you are a GREAT Rabbi?” Maybe they even wonder if they are alive now or dead. They had every right to be terrified. It’s hard to imagine standing there in this moment that drives them toward the answer to the question everyone has been asking- “who is this?” Jesus is the chosen Son of God.
And this is the turning point. Because everything that follows will reveal what Jesus is chosen for and how far God’s transformation will go.
To even begin to respond to what that means for them, they need to hear the directive God speaks that overpowers the confusion-“Listen!”
Because then the moment is over. One little glimpse of glory before back down the mountain, still trying to figure it out. On a road with twists and turns, and times they’ll forget to listen, or be confused, or scared, or doubt. Just like us.
At best we get little glimpses of God’s presence on a journey that we can’t really fathom. We speak of an amazing and powerful God, but it’s hard for us to grasp what it means, or to go where God’s transformation is leading. And with all the competing voices, frankly, we wish we had a little more to work with, as we fight the feeling of staying put. And our fears, our interests, our desires tell us not to listen to the will of God, or we at least convince ourselves that what we want is God’s will. And yet... we want to truly follow. We really do.
To sort out what it all means, we continue to need God to overpower the confusion- and we need to listen. Thomas Merton captures this with these words:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing .I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And…that you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
The gospel for us this day is not only that Jesus was revealed to be the Son of God. But that Jesus repeatedly labors, walking with us, leading us to understanding. To get us to listen, saying- “follow me and not the crowd.” “Don’t be afraid, I am with you.” And across Scripture, this is God’s story- continuing to choose and stay with people like us-who for every moment of “getting it” have lots of moments of lost, afraid and doubting and times of asking- “ you want me to do what?!” God continues to choose us, to lead us and to teach us. Transforming us to be more like the image of the Son. With a love and grace and patience that will go all the way to the cross.
As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, God is calling us again to deepen this relationship and our understanding. To continue to be transformed by listening. God knows we continue to wrestle with how to respond.
Our questions remain-“Who is Jesus?” “What’s it really all about for us?” “How can I know?” “How can we do that?”
To all these age old questions, God’s answer continues to be-“Look to my Son. Don’t be afraid, I'm here."