Peter’s Failed Business Plan

three lights
Image credit: <a href="">Ilya Khoteev</a>

Mark 9:2-9

Six days after this, Jesus took Peter, Jim, and John with him to the top of a high mountain. While they were there alone, right before their eyes, Jesus changed. His clothes lit up, a brighter white than in a bleach commercial. Elijah and Moses appeared from nowhere and were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter interrupted, saying to Jesus, “Teacher, it’s a good thing we’re here. We’ll make three kiosks: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” They were all so shocked, he didn’t really know what he was talking about.

Just then, a cloud came casting a shadow over them, and from the cloud they heard a voice saying, “This is my son whom I love. Listen to him.” As suddenly as it had all appeared, they looked around and there was just Jesus, by himself.

As they descended the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they’d seen until the chosen one had lived beyond death.

Peter’s response is like looking at a light bulb and going blind instead of looking around the room and understanding what the light from the bulb reveals.

Here in the middle of the gospel, we get a vision of Jesus. With Moses and Elijah who represent the law and the prophets who came before, and with the voice of God ringing in our ears, the gospel proclaims that this is unmistakeably the one at the center of the movement. Like the succession of Elijah, this is not a matter of genealogical inheritance (Mark doesn’t include a genealogy) or the result of a popularity contest.  It’s a matter of vision. It’s a matter of hearing and following. Jesus is the one on whom the spirit rests.

At the same time, here in the middle of the gospel, we find the tension between the vision that the movement stands for, and the tendency to reduce that vision and movement to an institution. Peter’s attempt to nail the movement down to a particular time and place voices our constant propensity to turn Jesus the person into Jesus the business model. Mark’s response to that impetus is clear, “Peter didn’t really know what he was talking about.” A living movement cannot be captured in one snapshot moment. A living movement lives from one moment to the next. The moment it gets nailed down is the moment it starts to die. Thus, it’s at the moment Peter proposes turning the movement into a building that the dark cloud appears. It’s the same darkness that covers the sky at the cross.