I am endlessly pleased Peter plays such a fundamental role in the Christian narrative. A perfect example of both deep faith and imperfect, bumbling humanity, he is someone with whom I can identify.
Sunday’s Gospel reading, which focused on Jesus’s Transfiguration, is an unmistakable turning point in Christ’s story, a chapter for which Jesus chose Peter to be present. It is, in a sense, the arc of the Gospels, where the glory of Christ’s healings and teachings give way to the fear and agony that will accompany his passion, death and resurrection. As he descends the mountain where he transformed to a bright white and conversed with Elijah and Moses, he mentions “the Son of Man [being] raised from the dead” to Peter, James and John. His predictions of his fate only increase from this point forward.
There are many details one could focus on in the story. It is an entirely new way of Jesus showing himself to be anything other than man. His speaking with two people seemingly raised from the dead is another means of foreshadowing his own resurrection. God’s voice descending from the heavens and announcing Jesus as the Lord’s “beloved Son” is a fascinating recollection of his baptism.
I, however, find myself most intrigued by Peter’s reaction.
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” he announces as he watches his teacher speak with two of the figures most central to his religious tradition. “Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
You’ve got to love Peter. The most extraordinary scene is unfolding before him, and his mind is on the crucial contribution he can make.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus presents and strikes a critical balance between movement and pause, exertion and repose or, in a twist on the Jesuit phrase, contemplation and action. It is the classic question of Martha’s busyness versus Mary’s attentiveness. What matters, of course, is knowing what a given moment requires. Jesus, in all his divinity, seemed to know exactly when it was time to lay his hands on the sick and when it was time to disappear up a mountain to pray by himself.
Lent presents us with a wonderful opportunity for similar reflection. We have the occasion to make a small sacrifice for God, to do something kind for others or to take some other measure that further opens us to God’s love.
On the other hand, there are moments when the only sacrifice God wants from us might be a moment of prayer, thanksgiving or more heartfelt attentiveness to the spirit’s movements in our lives.
The Christian life calls for many types of action, response and reply. Often, we must speak out against injustice or go to the margins to lend a hand to someone in need. Sometimes, in moments like the Transfiguration or even in less dramatic scenes, no response is required beyond our gratitude and acceptance of the peace that comes from an openness to God.