Mark 9:8

And suddenly, on looking around, they saw that there was now no one with them but Jesus alone.

as suddenly as mystery arrives
it is swept away into today
to reevaluate our surety
to see tomorrow ever closer

we hear an only piano play
smell garlic butter sauce
look around to find
yet another mystery you

here is wrapped together
our common heritage
holding a common good
to dawn’s earliest light

in a single glance
we sense our depth
settling further in
steadfast resolute

thanks be for a clarifying view
reshaping our travel
from transfiguration mountain
or desolation row

There are very few comments about this particular verse given by commentators. A part of that is trying to determine if this is the last verse of Transfiguration experience or if it is a first verse of a return to ordinary life with all its dullness and problems of living apart from what has been demonstrated as a Way of Wilderness Good News.

The series of surprises in a recognition of Moses and Elijah, blinding garments, mountain top dark storm clouds, and a Voice have ended. When this epiphany suddenly comes to a close there is not much left to do but shake one’s head to try and clear it in an attempt to avoid, “And they woke from their dream.”

What is to be made of this series of moments? Can any of it be understood? What does it mean going forward?

These are questions best received in the quiet of retreat space. You may want to jot a beginning response below—

Mark 9:7

Then a cloud came down and enveloped them; and from the cloud there came a voice – “This is my dearly loved son; listen to him.”

seeing the unexpected
forces the past upon us
stupefying our meaning center
into previous connections

moving from unexpected details
to no reference point
heightens every sudden sound
strains eyes to see anything

when we cloud-listen
it is old news and new possibility
wrapping world and self
in a protective cocoon

this this and this are G*D partnered
each each and every intimately intertwined
so we listen to ants and molehills
in turn a cherished talking-stick is held

I am deeply loved
you are deeply loved
all announces to each
each affirms an assurance amen

What we report comes from our expectations as much as from the details of the event itself. In this case it is important to wonder about what was remembered by people who were in awe and/or fearful.

Not only was there surprise when Jesus’ clothing is reported as glistening, there is surprise when a cloud blocks the sun. Disorientation upon disorientation.

Mark’s regular use of repetition and commitment to Jesus makes it easy to focus in on a reprise of the baptismal scene in chapter 1—“This is my Son, my Beloved”.

Is it at this point that Moses and Elijah are removed from the story or are they still present? If present, we might expect, “These are my Sons (to keep it in a patriarchal setting), my Beloveds”.

This helps us remember that G*D has made a covenant, a partnership, with a people, a community, not an individual. Even when it is put in the first person, a singular voice speaks as a communal voice. As Sabin-1126 puts it, “…the words “You are my Son,” addressed by the divine voice to Jesus; not as expressing a new and unique relationship between God and an individual but as signaling an ancient relationship in which Jesus stands for all God’s people.”

Rejoice! Covenants, Prophets, and Wisdom are your partners.

Mark 9:6

For he did not know what to say, because they were much afraid.

antecedents can be fun
in a transfiguration scene
we struggle to identify
who is terrified

it might be Peter James John
witnesses of blinding light
stumbling to make a response
dumbly proposing shrines

it might be Elijah Moses Jesus
witnessing to a larger light
caught in glory’s glow
lost whenever enshrined

with a forced response
our fear of tomorrow is revealed
with an on-going witness
consistency with yesterday freezes

there is more than enough terror
to frighten everyone
into reductionist responses
diminishing trust refusing change

When this verse is translated into Navajo the clauses must be transposed, “since they were exceedingly afraid, he did not know what to say”. (Bratcher276)

It is helpful to have both structures available for some better hear the action when they understand the motivation and others need an impetus to grasp an import. This could even be part of several other diagnostics to assist us in assessing our temperamental inclination.

When we are dealing with Peter’s state, it may be better to have had the translation say the disciples were in “a state of awe” rather than were “terrified”. Then we might hear echoes of terror in the midst of a storm at sea transformed into the awe of, “who is this who stills wind and wave?” We can be equally flummoxed in a time of awe or terror. Our ability to miss the point is easily engaged.

This also accords with Peter’s announcement that “it is good we’re here”.

As readers we will be tempted to understand ourselves as wiser than Peter—“If I were there, I’d have simply praised G*D for the opportunity to see this unity of Law and Prophet and Wisdom.” This still stops short of asking, “What does it mean for me to live with these three Qualities residing within me?” Having this partnership brought together in our presence brings a different relationship to ourselves and those around. This is another instance in which “glory all around!” is more of a hindrance than asset.

Mark 9:5

“Rabbi,” said Peter, interposing, “it is good to be here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Peter still an undergrad
applied his book learning
claiming his set theory
is just what is needed
in this dramatic moment

on a barren mountain plain
where every potential comes to dance
Peter would litter rocky shrines
turning a vocation to competition
between RGB hue sliders

this attempted solidification of the past
each with its gift shop of golden oldies
will miss a point of ongoing good news
exemplifying a trust of greater to come
through steadfastly changing hearts

Peter’s pop quiz
a wilderness test
pointedly failed
a forced response
freezing today

Peter’s response lives up to ἀποκρίθεις (apokritheis) which can

designate the action of a person who breaks into a conversation or who introduces something new into the discourse—this is its use here, for Peter had not been asked any questions.” (Bratcher275)

Just when we think we are all together—Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Disciples—Peter, speaking for his compatriots, bursts forth with a non sequitur.

How common this is. When surprised—babble on in the tradition of Babel, confusing the situation. In today’s political life, nonsense and non sequitur. the technique of being assertive without having anything helpful to say, poisons the whole scene with trembling and fear.

We are not helped by translators who resort to fancy language such as “tabernacles”, “tents”, “(sacred) tents”, “shelters”, “shrines”, “sanctuaries”, “memorials”, “dwellings”, or “places”. The best image here refers to the Feast of “Booths”—a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem with end-of-time implications of an ingathering of Harvest (Exodus 34:22) or a Completion of an Exodus from slavery to one Pharaoh or another to a dependence upon G*D (Leviticus 23:42–43).

Peter’s image of Booths puts more focus on locating ourselves along a pilgrimage road from dependence to partnership than honoring any given moment. If it is Booths, we need one or six, not three.

Mark 9:4

And Elijah appeared to them, in company with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.

spotlight brilliance
is a light engineer’s art
distance bulb aperture power
change mood and message

turn on “Elijah” in cave darkness
side-lighting a whisper of re-engagement
shine “Moses” in desert glare
revealing waiting reviving water rocks

in cloudy days listen for your cue
to add color to the main spots
signaling a story shift
in need of “Your Name” now

Swanson131 suggests, “Moses and Elijah can enter this scene because they never died.” He goes on to add Enoch to the list of those who hadn’t died (Genesis 5:24).

These three are in a special category different from, “Characters who had died were beyond human experience, out of reach until whatever came along in the way of a general resurrection.”

Swanson continues to connect Enoch in as the “origin of revelatory oracles” by comparing him to the Sibylline Oracles.” Finally comes a question: “And you might want to ask why Enoch is not in this scene. Or is Jesus Enoch?” (Swanson132) Ready; Discuss.

Swanson132 then raises a question of recognition. Unlike our overly visual culture, “ancient Jewish culture avoided representational painting and sculpting so there would not be a standard ‘Moses look,’ no visual code.” He goes on to talk about playing this scene:

Maybe Moses and Elijah would look ordinary. If so, the first reaction by the disciples would be to count their own party to make sure that these two other guys are not just some of the usual bunch. The next reaction will be one of surprise to find two extraneous tourists trespassing on the most stunning event of their time with Jesus up to this point. And the next reaction will take place when they find out the names of each of the random tourists. There were other people named Moses and other Elijahs, but somewhere in the sorting out, someone will have realized that the two intruders were not just named Moses and Elijah, they were THE Moses and THE Elijah.

Sabin-279, talks of a “trio of great figures matched by a trio of disciples.” She describes Moses and Elijah in their traditional representation of the Law and the Prophets, and says Mark “perceives Jesus to be a continuation of the wisdom of Israel”. The TANAKH is complete. The quest can now continue.

Mark 9:3

and his clothes became whiter than any launderer in the whole world could bleach them.

clothes more brilliant
than an emperor’s tailor’s vision
claim an ultimacy unmatched
except by attending full well
to an everyday Dickies uniform

in muted blues and greens
sky and earth do their work
mysterious bit by bit
backdrop every scene
supporting other brilliances

such division of labor
threatens every partnership
a flash-in-the-pan nova
eclipsing dark matter’s steadiness
graves need light and light graves

Commentators down the generations have noted white clothing both here on a mountain top and in a tomb (16:5). It is not only almost enough to lead one to dress in white, even after Labor Day, it can be a retrojection of a Resurrection into this half-way moment of Transfiguration.

Every culture has its way of expressing a persons location within it through dress or accessories. In Jesus’ day, royal purple would be one mark of importance. To wear clothes whiter than any fuller (bleacher) could get clothes, even should a Tetrarch command, is to continue bringing a different understanding of power present for all, no matter their status, who recognize their belovedness.

While white and black are not spectral colors, they do have a relationship with the colors: white includes all other colors; black is an absence of colors.

Swanson129 also looks at this passage liturgically. Transfiguration Sunday, just before Ash Wednesday, is a pivotal half-way point between Christmas and Easter. White turns to purple or blue. There is a needed juxtaposition between Transfiguration (white) and Good Friday (black).

Swanson reflects on an alien from Tralfamador in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five who is looking for where Christianity went wrong. He finds it in Pilate crucifying one considered to be a “nobody” whom Transfiguration/Easter declare to be a “somebody”. This alien argues that any Son of Adam (a regular nobody) is a beloved somebody and Transfiguration essentially says—There is no such thing as a “nobody”; those privileged and powerful in a culture are not to crucify, demean, dismiss, or disempower any such so labeled.

Mark 9:2

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain alone by themselves. There his appearance was transformed before their eyes,

a sixth-day sabbath
transforms valleys to mountains
in preparation for wilderness
straightening and testing

this is non-crowd activity
confirming every past
healing and teaching
including those on the way

such transformation
ocean deep or mountain high
invests actionable authority
blessing and assurance

a butterfly effect is present
in discipleship fishing
and a reverse effect is revealed
in prophetic analysis

For the moment, taking 9:1 as prelude to Jesus “transfiguration”, we have opportunity to let “six days” roll around in our imagination. Six days can be so full that they are one event—creation. Six days can drag on interminably—Moses waiting for a something, anything, after being called to Mount Sinai.

We can also see how Sabin-277, gets to, “The Transfiguration does in fact present an imaginative rendering of what God’s final kingdom will be like.” The presence of G*D doesn’t wait until death; it is a mere six days away, or six hours, or six minutes or seconds—or, BANG, Now! The presence of G*D is always in the air awaiting a kairotic moment of partnering.

The fancy word and religious jargon, “Transfiguration”, is, in the Greek μεταμορφόω (metamorphoō, to change into another form, transform). We all do this when we beam with pleasure or weep deep sorrow. Birth through a vaginal canal or shell is transformative. Rites of passage and cocoons show us this shift.

Even G*D changes. This is part of the import of how basic repentance is—contrary to a monotheistic tendency to concretize G*D for all time, even G*D transforms. It would be helpful to remember verses that Jesus would have known. Look up Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; Judges 2:18, 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Jeremiah 26:19; and Jonah 3:10. The King James Version uses “repent” in each of these verses. The version you use may have a variety of word choices to represent a change, a repentance, a metamorphosis. This exercise attempts to see Repentance behind its many appearances.

Mark 9:1

“I tell you,” he added, “that some of those who are standing here will not know death until they have seen the kingdom of God come in power.”

presence is power
this is not an options package

to be is to have effect
no matter what affect we present

if immediate assurance is desired
it can’t be given with a raised hand

to be alive readily demonstrates
a required evolutionary partnership

so no more waiting for a proof
only available after death

Do your best to understand why there would be a chapter break here. Does this simply stated assurance complete what has just been said? Is anticipation of some realized eschatology a needed lead-in to a Repentance or Transfiguration or Resurrection or Pentecost? My reading prefers this verse as a continuation.

Whichever way you would do the versification, remember this is still being spoken to the crowd and an implied reader as well as to the disciples.

Translations are all over the place with it comes to looking at the reference to death. Some sound as if the presence of G*D will arrive in All its power and glory, at which time they will die. Some talk about tasting death, seeing death, experiencing death. It seems wise here to continue in a poetic or metaphorical reading of γεύομαι (geuomai, to taste, experience, sample).

It is helpful to read paraphrases into more modern idioms. J. B. Phillips (~1950) and Eugene Peterson, forty years later:

…some of you standing here who will know nothing of death until you have seen the kingdom of God coming in its power! –Phillips

There is a sense of the transformative nature of death here that moves us beyond resignation or fear of an ending and experiencing what is hinted at in a mission of “repentance and trust”.

Some of you who are standing here are going to see it happen, see the kingdom of God arrive in full force. –Peterson

The emphasis here on the realization of G*D is disconnected from death. There is an experience awaiting. It even allows for dismissing the word “god” in favor of an edgy “Nature”.

Either way, these recognize Mark’s midrashic tendencies.

Mark 8:38

Whoever is ashamed of me and of my teaching, in this unfaithful and wicked generation, of them will the Son of Man be ashamed, when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” 

angels hover near test sites
where humans partner
with one another
wrestling with saints and demons
to see their face
and hear their names

in each temptation
we hold on to beasts
morphed to angels
and back again to self
chipping away every suffering
to its merciful core

testing by testing
our illusions solidify
to be embraced
as Francis did his leper
in a moment
for e’er

in a beast’s lair
we are shamed
by our ease of blame
separating self from context
idolizing angels
assuming cheap unity

“Shame” is a tricky concept here as it may also be translated as simply “having nothing to do with” another. “You are dead to me”, may be a more colloquial way of indicating this ancient dynamic.

“Unfaithfulness” and “adulteress” are identifiers of idolatry. This shifts the first judgment of shame toward there being something more important or meaningful. This divide of importance reinforces the descriptor of “distanced from” rather than “ashamed of”.

Another way of coming at this verse might be: “Whoever will have nothing to do with me has chosen something less to be important and thus misses the mark. The Fullness of Humanity (Son of Adam) will then be missing for them when the Light of Creation returns from the wilderness with wild beasts and angels.”

The last part of this recasting harkens back to the important difference between a Word (“Let it be…”, “Beloved”) and a setting of a post-Edenic Wilderness. It also presages a next image of Transfiguration at a half-way point in Mark’s story (Doxa/Glory as Shining/Light).

Our location between Creation and Eschaton is a wild and wooly place to be. It is filled with choices, affirmations, betrayals, glory, and shame. Saving lives and losing lives, questions of meaning and importance—then, now, and when—come crowding around while we find a stillness at the current nexus of life and Life.

Mark 8:37

For what could a person give that is of equal value with their life?

the market value of life
continually under values
the value of the provisional

continually mistaking life
as a technique to achieve
a pre-supposed outcome
we are quick to exchange
one faded glory for another

smoke-filled mirrors
naming ourself most fair
substitute fame for substance

We know, firsthand, the power of economic systems. It is the backstory of nearly every other aspect of our life. When we are in sync, we are privileged and applauded for what we have done. This disguises the pervasive presence of the whole economy. When we are out of sync, we are trapped and blamed for the moral weakness of not succeeding. This excuses the false foundation of the whole economy.

These comments and questions about life bring us to what Myers103 calls the “mysterious calculus of Jesus’ nonviolence”. This puts us right in the middle of an on-going struggle in evolution—evaluating the amount of opening and closing sequential changes make.

James Russell Lowell’s poem places us at an ever-present crux of the matter:

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each
the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

By what formula will we come out smelling like a rose when everything around us rots?

Is Nature “upward, still, and onward” or “red in tooth and claw”?

Where will you place your bet about consistency, what is truthful?

These questions continue to haunt, even during the noon-time of our life when, for a moment, all seems to have converged into a moment of pre-wilderness blessedness. Here, near the end of the first of two acts we have the questions that can be applied all the way through Mark’s tale and my life and yours: What is most valuable here and what will you change to partner with it? These are questions for Baptizer John, Herod, Pharisees, Disciples, Women at a Tomb, Jesus, G*D and Readers of Mark.