In today’s Scripture, Jesus is transfigured.
This isn’t a word we use often in everyday speak. To put it more plainly, we might say that Jesus went up on a mountain with three of his closest followers and was changed – changed into his 100%, unadulterated, Divine self. Like Clark Kent revealing the Superman suit underneath his white button-up, Jesus reveals his true identity: Messiah, Son of God.
“Tents,” or “Tabernacles.”
The disciple formerly known as Simon responds to the transfiguration in a way that is classic Peter. If we translate the Greek word skenai as tents, it sounds something like: “Lord, this is good! I’ll set up tents and we can camp out here forever!”
But what if we translate skenai as “tabernacles”?
That’s another word we don’t often use in everyday speak. We have to think back to our Old Testament stories to remember what a “tabernacle” is – the elaborate, multi-layered tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant and the Seat of God. If that’s what Peter meant, then his question to Christ sounded more like: “Lord, this is good! I’ll build three churches here and all the people can come to us.”
Jesus responds without hesitation: “No.”
See, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
God the Father didn’t like to stay put, either. In 2 Samuel 7, when David first offers to build a permanent Temple to replace that transient tabernacle, God tells David, “No, thanks. I’ve been in a tent since we left Egypt, and that’s just fine by me” (my rephrasing).
Like Father, like Son: when Jesus begins his ministry, he doesn’t just squat down in his hometown of Nazareth and expect people to come to him. He is so constantly on the move that after years of study and a trip to the Holy Land I still struggle to keep up with his travels. Jesus went out, to where the people were.
As children of God, we are also expected to be apples that don’t fall far from the tree.
When we experience God in a very real way, our instinct might be similar to Peter’s: “Let’s stay here!” Sometimes “here” is a literal place. Sometimes “here” is a way of doing things or a particular period in time. Whatever “here” is, if we offer to camp out or build churches or otherwise stay put, Jesus will probably tell us firmly:
Instead of staying put, we must mimic Christ and his Father before him. We must go.
We leave Sunday worship and go into the world,
expecting to find God at work outside of the church walls.
We leave a meaningful retreat and go home,
putting our deeper faith into action.
We leave a God encounter and go back to school or work,
and teach others what the love of God looks like using our words and our actions.
When we encounter God, do we stay just where we are?
Thanks to the New International Bible Commentary’s article on Matthew 17:1-9 for its insistence that skenai should be translated as “tabernacles.”