In today’s Gospel reading we learnt from Mark how Jesus led his disciples Peter, James and John up a high mountain and was transfigured before their very eyes. Transfiguration meaning that his clothes became dazzling white, ‘such as no-one on earth could bleach them’. That statement about the bleaching identifies the clothing as heavenly and not of this realm. In Matthew’s Gospel we learn that Jesus’s face ‘shone like the sun’. Then Elijah and Moses appear and talk with Jesus.
What an extraordinary moment that must have been for Peter, James and John who were given a brief glimpse of the glory that was to come when Jesus will rise from the dead and ascend to heaven. It must have been a moment of both wonder, awe and terror. Neither Peter, nor James nor John were even certain who Jesus was, even though by that time they had journeyed with him in his healing ministry in Galilee, Capernaum, and Caesarea Philippi. Uncertainty because although they had not at this stage deserted Jesus he had put them in some very frightening situations already. They had been caught in a boat in a gale and whilst Jesus rescued them they were terrified until he had used his power to command the wind and sea. On another occasion they were stuck in a boat, straining their oars against the wind; again, a terrifying experience even though Jesus walked on the water, got in the boat and the wind ceased.
In spite of the terrifying nature of the transfiguration, Peter is at least able to speak and he offers to make three dwellings for Jesus and Elijah and Moses. Possible motives for this offer were to prolong the amazing situation, despite fear and awe, or perhaps to introduce an earthly element into a divine situation to keep a sense of proportion. Here, though, Peter takes a wrong turning as this offer to make dwellings denies the divinity of Jesus and what has occurred. God responds in a voice through a cloud that has overshadowed them that reminds them of divinity as he says: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!’. There was no need for speech just to listen and learn.
Unfortunately this was the second wrong turning that Peter made in his journey with Jesus. A while before the Transfiguration took place, Peter had firmly stated to Jesus that he is the Messiah, showing that his faith was strong. Then came a turning point. When Jesus foretold his death and resurrection, Peter rebuked him. How could his beloved Master, after all his great works, be put to death? Jesus reprimanded him for setting his mind on human things not divine things. You could say that when Peter offers the tents at the Transfiguration he is making the same mistake. Later on, towards the end of the Gospel narrative, He makes one last terrible wrong turning when Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and duly arrested and Peter denies three times that he knew Jesus. Yet when he realizes what he has done, he breaks down and weeps.
We know, though, that this is not the end of the story for Peter and his fellow disciples. Except for Judas Iscariot who betrays Jesus with a kiss and then goes to hang himself, they will all, regardless of any lack of faith and stubbornness of will, be sent out by Jesus into the world to proclaim the good news of salvation, which they duly did. Even Peter, who was the one who denied Jesus, was the very one who was asked by him, as John’s Gospel gives it to us, to feed his lambs and tend his sheep and Peter is to die in a manner that will glorify God.
So where does this leave us with the wrong turnings that we can make in our lives, that can lead us into a cul-de-sac of despair? For the disciples, we know from the Gospels that their journey of faith, which was a mixture of doubt and fear and love, was pre-ordained. Jesus knows that Judas will betray him and he knows that Peter will also deny him. So these wrong turnings were part of God’s plan. What I believe distinguishes the fate of Judas Iscariot with Peter’s fate is that Peter shows remorse and that must surely find favor with God as Judas hangs himself whilst Peter is destined to be the rock upon which the church is founded. Is that so for us also? I believe so in that God gives us freedom of choice and when we go awry but show remorse, he is forgiving and patient; he waits for us to turn the wheel towards him when we turn it away. Sometimes, when we are not sure of our direction and we pray to him for guidance, he may take the wheel and shift it to put us on a better road. God is after all the King of Love so there lies hope for us all.