This past Sunday we celebrated Transfiguration Sunday, where Jesus was transformed on the mountain. Here is the passage from Luke’s Gospel: About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him.
As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying. Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe.
Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen. Luke 9:28-36
Peter wants to build shrines to commemorate the event. We would rather construct something to signify our relationship with Jesus than to listen to him. Listening compels us to choose to follow and obey or to turn away and ignore. We don’t really want to do either, for the first requires that we remove ourselves from the throne and put Christ there, and the second makes us feel like bad people, and we don’t want to acknowledge that about ourselves.
So, left with two unappealing choices, we, like Peter, opt for a third choice—let’s build something. As we build a shrine, others will know that we’ve been with Jesus, that we are insiders. We can avoid either obedience or outright rejection of Christ by doing something, by building a shrine. Some of us build a shrine by charitable service—feeding and clothing those less fortunate than ourselves. Some build a shrine by serving on church committees, giving long hours to administrative acts for the church. There are many way we build shrines, shrines that keep us from having to listen to Jesus or reject him.
Certainly it’s not a bad thing to help others. Jesus helped others, but his first priority was obedience to God. He listened to God, and then acted out of the intimacy of his relationship with God. We build shrines when we act without listening, when we act to make ourselves look and feel good, when we avoid committing ourselves to developing an intimate relationship with Christ.
I build a shrine when I am resentful of how my service is received by others, or when I demand my own way in the church or when I withhold resources from the Kingdom because I don’t like that the church is not doing things my way. Shrine building occurs whenever we grumble and back-bite and undermine another, whenever we slay another by our words, forgetting that the target of our displeasure and venom is a child of God and loved by God.
When our service doesn’t flow from first listening to and obeying Christ, we are simply building shrines. And, ironically, the shrine isn’t built to glorify God, but ourselves. The shrine tells others that we were here and we did something special “for God.”
God isn’t into shrine-building. What God wants is for us to listen to Jesus, and then, obey. Love the enemy, give without reservation, love God and love neighbor. Die to self. Die to self-interest. Die to self-preservation. Die to self-promotion. For either we die, or we suppress the life of Christ in us. There is not room for both me and Christ. I must die so Christ can live in me. That then is my transfiguration.