Our gospel reading is from Mark 9 and begins with verse 2. But our reading leaves off the first three words of the first verse. It simply doesn’t say them. Apparently someone felt that the reading didn’t need these first three words. What are the 3 words? They are ‘Six days later.’ The gospel passage begins with those three words. You see, something significant happened six days before Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to the mountain where He is transfigured before them. Something that Mark, the gospel writer, or Peter the one who is narrating this to Mark remembers distinctly. There are certain days that do stick out in our memories aren’t there? Do you remember the day John Kennedy was assassinated? Do you remember where you were? Do you remember the day the Challenger exploded or when the twin towers were attacked? Those are collective memories that we in our society share. Each of us also has personal memories that are seared into our memory banks. It may be good things like when you go on your first date with the one who becomes your wife or husband, or your first kiss or your first car. It may be more unpleasant things like getting stitches or some other painful situation or some embarrassing situation. God made us so that we remember certain events. Some things just get strongly impressed into our heads.
The phrase, “Six days later” indicates some event had seared into the memory of the narrator. If the gospel had been written as many scholars think in the early 60’s this event had taken place 30 years or more prior. So what had happened 6 days earlier that Peter remembered so clearly? What happened six days before they walked up the mountain? Six days earlier Jesus and his disciples were walking to Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asked his disciples, “What are people saying about me?” The disciples said, “Well, they are saying this and they are saying that.” Then Jesus said, “What do you think? Who do you think that I am?” Peter, speaking for all the disciples said, “You are the Christ.”
Then Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, that he was going to suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and chief priests, and be killed there, and then he would be raised back to life. When Peter hears this he takes Jesus aside and scolds Jesus. He tells Jesus that “No way, that will not happen to you!” Peter was speaking from his understanding of what he thought the Christ was going to do and be. But Jesus, instead of simply shaking his head and saying something like, “Well, you will understand all this later on” He says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man.” Then Jesus turns the rest of the disciples and the crowd around and says, “Whoever would follow me must pick up his cross and follow me. Whoever is trying to preserve his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s sake will save it. What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but then to forfeit his soul? For what can a person give in return for soul?” Jesus really hammered Peter and all the disciples here. It is no wonder he remembers this event!
Six days later, now we come to the Gospel reading for today. This is the context for what happens here. Jesus, Peter, James and John climb up the mountain and Jesus begins to pray. Peter and James and John fall asleep. But when they wake up they see Elijah and Moses are there with him and they are talking back and forth. Peter gets so excited he says, “This is great, let’s just stay here—we will build some tents and we can hang out up here.” He doesn’t know what he talking about, he is just talking. Then the clouds all bunch together and God the Father says, “This is my Beloved son, listen to him.” He could have added, “Don’t argue with him, don’t contradict him, listen and obey!”
You see, this is the issue. We, like Peter and the rest of the disciples, have our own ideas how everything should work out in our lives and around us. All too often we have our minds on the things of man, not the things of God. We do not like the idea of picking up crosses and denying ourselves. We don’t like losing our lives for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. We want God to set up his kingdom right here that is; we want a good life right now. Peter and the rest of the disciples had this same mind-set all the way until Jesus actually went to the cross. We are not very different than they were. But God says, “This is my Beloved Son, listen to Him!” God says this because Jesus has the words of life. True joy and meaningful life comes from following him and what he teaches us.
We enter the season of Lent this week. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and if you come, and I hope you will, ashes will be put on your forehead and you will be told, “From dust you came and to dust you will return.” I want these words to burn into your memory. These are not words that are particularly fun to hear, are they? It is not pleasant to be reminded of one’s impending death, is it? Are these words said because we want people to feel bad? No, that is not the reason. They are said because we need to see our lives in the perspective of eternity; we are echoing what Jesus told his disciples. “What does it profit to gain the whole world but then to lose one’s soul? The answer is: it doesn’t profit! It is not a worthwhile trade! The point of Ash Wednesday is to remind ourselves that our time here on earth is short. It doesn’t matter if we live to be 120; life is still short! It is short and therefore we as Christians need to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. The way of the cross is the way of denying ourselves, the way of death to self’s desires. We are then free to put Jesus first and others before us. We are then free to live abundant lives!
Ash Wednesday and the time of Lent is a time where we try to reassess our lives. It is a time to re-evaluate what is really important. It is to be a time of learning to listen to what Jesus has told us just like God the Father told Peter, James and John on the mountain. God said, “This is my beloved Son—listen to him! It is a time for putting God’s things before my things. It is a time to make God and his priorities my priorities.
In all of our lives we remember certain and special things. May Ash Wednesday and this season of Lent be a time when God gives each of us a special experience, a moving experience to sear our memories so that we remember to really listen and obey what Jesus said.