(A Lection Reflection on Luke 9:28-36)
Years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote a wonderful little book entitled “Your God Is Too Small.” In it, he posited that what many people were busy worshipping, fighting, or ignoring was in fact an idol: their own limited conception of God. He then challenged the reader to expand their understanding of God beyond the childhood box they had stored God within.
It’s easy to put God in a box. We all do it from time to time, causing no end of bad sermons, bad aphorisms, and bad theology. The disciples did it with Jesus all the time, too — but in today’s passage, they get corrected, and how.
Let’s set the stage. In the passage right before this, Luke writes of the Great Confession of Peter at Capernaum. “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” As far as we know, none of the other disciples were especially surprised at this — Peter undoubtedly was expressing what they had all been privately discussing for some time. And Jesus commended Peter for using that term: Christ, or Messiah. Yes, Jesus seems to say, I am the One you have been waiting for. At that point, you would think the pecking order within the group would be pretty clear, sort of like the old Chevy Chase bit on SNL: I’m the Messiah, and you’re not.
Yet, about a week later, we find Jesus and the inner three — Peter, James, and John — together on the Mount of Transfiguration. You all know the story: Jesus is praying, his appearance changes, suddenly Moses and Elijah show up, they discuss the upcoming “final act” in Jerusalem, Moses and Elijah start to leave. The three disciples have watched this with both amazement and some degree of terror, and have not said a word (right move), but then Peter can’t be quiet for long (bad move), so he blurts out something about building tabernacles for all three esteemed personages and let’s just camp out here and swap stories for a while. At least he had the good sense to say just three tents and not six.
And here is where Peter gets corrected, and where we can all learn something from the correction. Peter names all three men equally — Jesus, Moses, Elijah — putting them all on the same plane, at least when it comes to his building plans. I don’t know what he was thinking — maybe he wasn’t. Maybe, given some time to reflect, he would either have put Jesus above the other two — Peter HAD just called him the Messiah, a week before. It’s also possible that, given the high esteem for Moses and Elijah in the Jewish religion, he might have put Jesus lower than the other two.
In either case, you have to ask yourself: Just how big IS your Messiah, Peter? When you called Jesus the Christ, just where did that put him in your hierarchy of divine beings? Good teacher? Prophet? King? Something between these and God?
No matter. Because here comes a cloud — and anyone familiar with Moses on Mount Sinai gets the reference — and out of the cloud comes a voice saying in no uncertain terms, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
You can say that sentence over and over, putting the emphasis on a different word each time, and you get the same result: Peter, this Jesus is not like Moses and Elijah. He is My Son, and no one else is. It’s time for you to listen to him, and not the other way around.”
Whatever else one does with Jesus, it seems obvious that he is more than just a good teacher, or a prophet. He is even more than Moses and Elijah. His life and death are connected to God in some special and unique way. And if we put Jesus into a box, we may have God say to us, “Your Messiah is too small.”