This reflection is based on the Transfiguration story in Matthew 17.
Jesus takes Peter, John and James and goes up the mountain. Suddenly Jesus begins to shine. He is lit up from the inside out. Then Moses and Elijah appear and start talking to Jesus. You might remember Moses and Elijah as ancient leaders of the people.
And the disciples are shocked and surprised. Up to this point they don’t really understand who Jesus is. They don’t understand what it is that Jesus is being called to do or how they are participating in his work. Peter gets a bright idea: he’s not really sure what’s going on so the impulse is to keep busy so he suggests that first task that comes into mind: let’s build tents. Tents suggests the idea of getting comfortable and settling in for a while so perhaps Peter expects that Jesus and Moses and Elijah will be spending significant time together on the mountain.
One response to discomfort is to appear busy so we don’t have to look at whatever is making us uncomfortable. It is a coping mechanism so that we seem to be dealing with whatever is happening around us. In this story we have Moses and Elijah suddenly appearing to Jesus. I would be shocked to see a couple people from the ancient past suddenly appear within my line of vision. Having something else to focus on, some busy work can be helpful in the moment to ease the discomfort and keep us from panicking but when the busy work is done the problem is still there.
So when Peter offers to build the tents as a way of helping him cope with something that shouldn’t be happening the Holy Spirit comes on the scene. Peter and the other disciples don’t get the opportunity to escape into busyness because now there is light coming through the clouds and a voice speaks to them: “This is my own, my chosen one. Listen to him!” Okay so now they can panic. And they do.
There aren’t supposed to be people from the past. There isn’t supposed to be this kind of light from the sky and there isn’t supposed to be disembodied voices speaking to them.
How often do we see something that disturbs us and in order to avoid really addressing the problem we end up keeping ourselves busy so we don’t have the time, the energy or even the perception to address the issue.
Sometimes after a death people try to keep busy. Maybe there’s all the banking and legal issues that need dealing with. There are funeral arrangements that need to be managed down to the finest detail and then there’s work to go back to. And it is true that these are all real and necessary activities but when there is a stop in the activity the person we love is still dead and there is still grief to attend to.
We see violence somewhere else in the world but it doesn’t touch us, we are busy and have our own lives to live and so we keep busy without really stopping to look. But the violence is still there and it is still real.
In our own congregation we can see that what we are doing is not sustainable but if we keep busy with worship and activities and fundraising (all of which are a part of who we are) we feel like we are doing something to keep ourselves afloat. As soon as we pause we see we are still in the same situation. It’s like someone who is miles from shore treading water to keep from drowning: as soon as they stop treading water they will drown.
So the disciples don’t want to see what’s happening around them. Before and after this story Jesus talks about his own suffering and death and resurrection. None of this makes sense to the disciples and so they try to keep themselves busy.
What’s our response to discomfort—collectively and individually? Are we willing to look directly at whatever it is that is making us uncomfortable or do we keep busy so that we can avoid seeing and feeling our discomfort?
In speaking to the disciples, Jesus was trying to prepare them for what was to come. He was trying to help them understand and make sense of his life and ministry but they didn’t want to understand and so missed the opportunity that is given to them in this story. Both Moses and Elijah brought messages to the people that required some convincing. Moses had to convince the pharaoh to let the people go. Remember the signs? Who would believe those signs? And then once in the desert Moses had to constantly convince the people that they were following God and that God was present when it seemed they were alone. Elijah convinced the widow to feed him even though it seemed like there would never be enough food for them to survive. He convinced the people that there was only one God through his fiery showdown with the prophets of Baal. These are thing that should not have been able to happen and yet they did. But in order to see God the people needed to look beyond their disbelief at the events around them. They had to stop and really see.
When we come to places in our own lives that are painful, uncomfortable or frustrating we also need to stop being busy. We need to look directly at whatever is causing our pain and wait for God. It can be difficult when we feel like we are drowning to stop treading water but another response, like swimming, might be more helpful.
What are the places in your life that you are keeping busy to avoid seeing or feeling something? Are you able to stop being busy and wait for God to speak into those places and offer direction or guidance?