This Sunday’s Gospel Reading from Mark 9:2-9 begins with these words: “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves”. To understand the lessons appointed for this Sunday – the Last Sunday after the Epiphany – we would need to understand the significance of the events of the “six days earlier”.
There are three significant events preceding the mountaintop experience.
First, there was Peter’s confession of the Christ in Mark 8:27-30. This took place at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. Part two of the question was, “What about you? Who do you say I am?” Then Peter replied, “You are the Christ”.
In the next verses (31-33) Jesus alludes to his passion, “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected” and even be killed! This was too much for Peter. That was not the kind of Christ he had in mind. His Christ was exulted and powerful, a warrior messiah.
The third thing is in the following verses (34-38) where Jesus called together his disciples and the crowd that was following him and warned them that following him entailed denying oneself and taking up one’s cross.
Thus, Jesus was preparing his disciples; he is preparing us, for the vocation of discipleship. Similarly in the First Reading from 2 Kings 2:1-12, Elijah prepares his student, Elisha, to carry on the ministry after his departure.
In the liturgical calendar this is the last Sunday of the Epiphany season. On Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – we begin the Lent Season when we focus on Jesus’ journey to the cross and the cost of our own vocation as we follow him.
Peter was mesmerized by what he saw at the top of Mount Tabor. Indeed, the view of the Jezreel Valley below is breathtaking; and when you add the company of Jesus, Moses and Elijah in their dazzling appearance, no wonder he suggested making the mountaintop a dwelling place.
The lesson here is this: Following Jesus is not the equivalent of life of glory on a mountaintop. To be Jesus’ follower one must be prepared to get down on one’s hands and feet and get dirty. To be Jesus’ follower one must be ready to suffer, be rejected and scorned and even bear the heavy cost of persecution and martyrdom.
What is the cost of discipleship for you?