Suddenly the narrative ends. When the disciples look around they saw no one with them–only Jesus!
Mark 8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
So here’s the question Jesus asked his closest followers: Who do people say that I am? I’m reminded of what’s been going on in Iowa and New Hampshire and of the people I “see” on Facebook. Registered Republicans are being asked that question by Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump as are Democrats being queried by their candidates. It’s not so much who is the candidate, it’s who are you as you make your choice, voice your opinion and ultimately cast your ballot. When asked, the Disciples displayed the same kind of indecision that we are seeing in the news. In Jesus’ case, especially after the event with Herod, some thought, “Well, maybe he is John the Baptist.” And others suggested Elijah or another of the prophets. The big question finally wasn’t who do others say, it was ‘…who do you say that I am?” Peter voices his opinion. Got to give him credit for that. And how he said what he said was important. He didn’t say I’ve studied the poll numbers, I’ve read all your policy statements, some by the way kinda stretch credibility, so in my opinion I think you might very well be the messiah. He said “You are the Messiah.”
The question became important to Friends. As early as 1648 Quakers were refusing to say ‘you’, a second person plural pronoun for a second person singular that fed puffery. It’s a quirky Quaker thing – to call an individual ‘you’ in the time of early Friends rather than the correct ‘thou’ that was the correct second person singular. It was to say that ‘you, my friend, are more important than any one individual. And some people thought that they were. It got some early Friends thrown in jail. But much more to the point, in 1652 George Fox after visiting Swarthmore Hall went to the Ulverston steeplehouse for a public meeting and Margaret Fell and her children were there. She recalled him saying “thou will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?”
That was one of the important reasons Quaker’s claim to be ‘non-creedal’ on an institutional level – what’s important in my testimony of Christ’s work in my life only has integrity as it is what I say, not what someone else has written for me to repeat. It’s also the reason Friends have difficulty with a great many of the hymns of the church – again, it is someone else’s experience and someone else’s words. The question lingers – ‘what saith thou?’
After Peter voiced his own understanding of who and what Jesus was, bless his impetuous heart, when Jesus described what it means to be the Messiah where Jesus says : “…the Son of Man” that’s how Jesus referred to himself, “…the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Peter can’t help himself. He rebukes Jesus for saying those things. Jesus tells him that his mind was on human things not things divine. Jesus scrubs away any hint of that following him is a path to earthly greatness or acclaim. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “ That’s the cross that is on the wall in this Meeting house. It’s not a replica of the cross on which Jesus died, it is a reminder of this verse. It’s not about his sacrifice, it’s about ours. It get’s back to that ‘what saith thou’ thing.
In the ninth chapter of Mark, with Peter, James and John as witnesses, Jesus goes up into a mountain, apart from the crowds. And Mark relates the story of what we’ve come to call his transfiguration. No, we don’t understand it. Artists have tried to paint it and in reading it we can’t imagine it. Beside the radiance, the report is that Moses and Elijah join Jesus in conversation.. Deuteronomy reports Moses having died but admits that no one knows where he was buried. Elijah didn’t die an earthly death but was taken up in a windstorm. Whatever the circumstances, for a few moments their presence is witnessed by the disciples. Again, Peter, unable to contain his enthusiasm interrupts the conversation and says to Jesus “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Of course the three disciples were thoroughly Jewish in their thinking. I’d wish we could properly date the story of Jesus’ transfiguration because even a casual reader who knows only a bit about Judaism can’t miss the similarity to the Jewish feast of Sukkot. They build a temporary shelter, a booth, in which they take their meals for eight days. It is a time of renewed fellowship with God. A time to recall how God had sheltered their ancestors in the desert, surrounded by clouds of glory. It comes immediately after a time of “awe” – like the disciples were experiencing. So much so that the next thing that comes from Peter’s lips is : 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
From the gathered clouds comes a voice that says: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And the apparition abruptly ends.
Like Peter, times will come for us when proclamation is no longer appropriate. When we don’t know what to say. And what is appropriate is to be quiet, when God says “This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him! Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference, when we feel called to respond to the inquiry ‘What saith thou’ and then when we don’t know what to say. Early Friends realized that this was more common than thought so they warned us about ‘out running one’s leading’. An example John Woolman shares in his own journal. He writes that he felt a strong leading to travel to the Barbados to minister to Friends there who held slaves. He purchase the ticket for passage and traveled to the port from which the ship would depart. On arriving at the port he had a strong sense of the leading having been completed and so he did not sail but turned around and went home! Our leading may be more like Peter’s than Woolman’s. It may be that the most important thing for us to do in that moment is to, one, keep silence, and two, recognize that we are in the presence of Christ and as God instructed Jesus’ disciples, we are to listen to him.
Suddenly the narrative ends when the disciples looked around. They saw no one with them – only Jesus.