This reflection is for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle B, 2/25/2018.
You may have heard the expression “a mountain top experience” before. What exactly is a mountain top experience, anyway? Well, if you’ve ever been on a mountain top, you won’t need my explanation, but if you have not…well, you won’t get it anyway, as the saying goes, you’ve just got to be there! And I soooo want you to be there. It’s amazing.
Today’s gospel begins with, “Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.” Much ink has been spilled on why Jesus took Peter, James, and John, up the mountain instead of others, but today my point is not who Jesus took, but where he took them, as the intro suggests.
Let me just start by saying, if you’ve never climbed Half-Dome, in Yosemite National Park (it’s the picture above), you need to add that to your bucket list! It’s amazing! I have climbed that mountain many times, and I keep going because it still amazes me each and every time. The last time I went, we went as a family. I just wanted my sons, Mark and Luke, to know how amazing it is. As you might imagine, there was no small amount of complaining both on the way up and on the way back down! Blisters, sore feet, not enough water, not enough snacks, dangerous cliffs, the Merced River gorged and overflowing! Let me just tell you that we took a lot of breaks, shed a lot of tears, and someone may or may not have called C.P.S. on more than one occasion! But my wife, two boys (9 and 11 years old), and I made it safely up and back. It was amazing…again.
“Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain,” the Gospel teaches. Funny that the Gospel writer never talked about what we all know is true of getting to the top of high mountains! Did they have granola? Where did they carry their water? Did they have walking sticks? Who complained the most–Peter, James, or John? Did they get blisters? I had hiking boots, and I’m pretty sure wearing sandals must have been considerably harder on the ‘ol Harley Feetersons. Listen, mountains haven’t changed! It was hard. They suffered getting up that high mountain! It took a long time. It was dangerous. And it was no doubt unpleasant. I’m quite sure the disciples kept asking, “How much farther, Jesus? Are we there yet?”
But then they arrived! That must have been a very good feeling! The air is fresher on the mountain. The view is beautiful. Things that seem so big and overwhelming when you’re in the valley look small and almost insignificant when you have a higher perspective. Being on the mountain puts everything into perspective. To top it all off, Jesus gave his disciples a most wonderful gift while up there–he revealed the fullness of his glory to them. He conversed with Elijah and Moses, and things were so good that Peter offered to set up a few tents so that they could stay a while. Yes, it’s good to be on the mountain! But that’s not where they are to stay. Just like that, Jesus and the disciples are alone on the mountain, the transfiguration is over, and it’s time to head back down the hill to the valley below with its dirty air, the stench of cities, its overcrowding, poverty, and brokenness.
The truth is that some of us have in fact been on “the mountain top.” There are no words that could ever express the feeling of being in the presence of God. The rest of the world seems to disappear, and we have but for a brief moment while on earth, a foretaste of the eternal glory for which we hope to enter into fully one day. And this is why we share the Gospel, share the truth that we have come to know and experience about God. It’s amazing. And we love it. And we want to share what we love with others so they too can experience it and know it. And here is the rest of the truth: it takes courage to begin, commitment to see it through in spite of the difficulty and discomfort, and discipline to stay focused on the prize.
To climb the mountain to God requires courage to pursue a life of virtue, a life of holiness, and a willingness to be a bit different than others around us. Discipleship is not for the weak of heart. Discipleship requires commitment to begin over and over again. We must be humble because we will stumble, we will fall, and we must continually get back up, brush ourselves off and begin again. We become acutely aware of our weakness and failings. We must also be disciplined in our moral life, our prayer life, and our family life. We know that the prize is great and so we willingly endure great suffering and sacrifice much to purify our will and align it with God’s. There will be blisters, some tears, and some aching spiritual muscles, but, oh, the view! To be on the mountain with God is AMAZING and makes the effort worthwhile.
We’re not about “saving souls for Jesus,” as though that were our job. No, that’s God’s job. Our job is to share the joy that we’ve found in being Jesus’ disciple, invite others to join us on a journey up the mountain, enjoy the moment, and get back down into the trenches again. Jesus’ mountain top experience with his disciples didn’t end on the mountain. They went down the mountain, and so must we. We help with the poor, the broken, and the needy. We volunteer our time at juvenile and adult detention facilities. We advocate for those who have no voice–the marginalized, the incarcerated, the homeless, the unborn, the elderly, and the earth itself. We choose the poor and powerless as our companions, bind ourselves to them, and lift them up. This is what Jesus did, and it’s what we are called to do.
Ironically, it is in these trenches that we climb our mountain, and it is in these trenches that Jesus is transfigured before us in the poor and needy. So a wonderful gift to see Jesus in those we serve. Thank you, Jesus. And if we continue “to climb” while in these trenches, we will indeed spend eternity on the mountain. I hope God’s mountain is on your bucket list too. Join me.
Lenten blessings, as you climb your mountain this season.