14 November 2011

Matthew 17:1-13

"This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased." (v. 5)


This transcendent moment in Jesus' story comes follows his friend Peter's realisation that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). After Peter's declaration Jesus begins to speak of his future suffering and death (Matthew 16:21). Then he takes his closest friends with him up the mountain where he is transformed before them - a moment of glory. Then just a few verses later Jesus is again speaking of his death (Matthew 17:22).

So from the declaration from Peter. it's as if the steady, foreboding drum beat begins, foreshadowing Jesus' final journey to the cross. In the midst of that dark rhythm we get this stunning shaft of light: God speaks from a bright cloud in words that resonate with what Peter has already said: "This is my Son, the Beloved: with him I am well pleased". The testimony of earth and the testimony of heaven come together on this carpenter from Nazareth on a mountain top.

Peter didn't need the voice from heaven to come his understanding of who Jesus is - he simply spent time with him, watching what Jesus did, walking with him, sharing food with him, sharing friendships with him. But Peter's moment of insight is followed be a series of faux pas: "God forbid!" (Matthew 16:22) he tells Jesus when he speaks of his death, and then on the mountain top he thinks it would be a good idea to put up tents so that they can stay in that glorious place (verse 4).

Peter is trying to work out what it means for Jesus to be "the Messiah, the Son of the living God". He baulks at the idea of the Messiah suffering and dying so when the glory of heaven opens up he thinks 'That's more like it! Let's stay here'. But Jesus knows that the only way to be faithful to who he is called to be is to walk down the mountain, back into the mess, pain and chaos of the real world. And Peter, despite his flawed understanding and the fact that he's not quite sure what's going on, follows him down.

To Ponder

Is it more important to understand who Jesus is or to follow him? What's the difference?

Why do you think it is important that Peter comes to his realisation of who Jesus is before he hears the words from heaven?

Bible notes author

The Revd Ric Stott

Ric Stott is a Methodist minister and works for the Sheffield Methodist District as a Venture FX pioneer exploring new ways of being church, based around the creative arts. He is an artist and art psychotherapist, and is particularly interested in how creativity can help us to explore and develop spirituality, identity and community.