In the Lectionary

February 14, Transfiguration B (Mark 9:2–9)

Peter wants to capture that mountaintop experience forever.

On the night before his sudden and unexpected death, my father decided to show us some old family slides. An amateur photographer, he would make a pest of himself setting up shots: endless fiddling with light meters and mysterious f-stops and the placement of the scene just so. He wanted to capture me in all the glorious wonder of my fourth year, but all of his fussing to get the perfect shot would send me into a royal snit and meltdown. Nowadays, one of my fondest memories of Dad is of that night and his narrating our lives through a series of one-inch squares of celluloid. I would like to freeze-frame that evening, savoring it endlessly.

Most of us have memories like that, golden oldies from our pasts that we’d like to preserve (along with some we’d like to forget). But when we capture them in fixed form instead of in the living repositories of our memories, they can be oddly dissatisfying, quaint, not quite right when we revisit them. They are true and they’re not. I love the old pictures, but I look at them knowing that they capture only a single moment seen through one lens and focused by one person’s take on reality. They cannot apprehend that moment of life in its entirety. Nor can we stay in the moment they capture, however much we might want to.

Peter, James, and John, the same trio present in last week’s Gospel at the healing and the hatching of a new ministry, reappear this week, privy to something extraordinary. Just prior to our reading, Jesus was teaching the disciples a new truth about the cost of discipleship; he was predicting his own suffering, death, and resurrection. Then he turned to the crowd and stressed the need for his followers to tread the same path he would soon tread. He then promised that there would be some among them who would not taste death “until they see the Kingdom of God has come with power.” Six days later, Mark tells us, the transfiguration takes place. It is, perhaps, a miniature fulfillment of the prediction that precedes it.