The Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, St. Matthew’s Church, McMinnville

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:8).

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus reveals his glory on the holy mountain, the mountain of Transfiguration. It’s a significant moment in Jesus’ ministry because he’s about to turn his steps toward his final journey to Jerusalem. All well and good, but one of the most significant parts of this episode that reveals the glory of God is the message of the voice that comes from heaven. It’s a message of invitation: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:8).

In other words, the voice tells the apostles that their eyes may be dazzled by what they have seen, but the important work before them is listening. The voice is God’s voice and he’s directing them and us to the Son and to the words he will speak. We need to pay attention. We need listening ears, ears that are tuned in to the words that will be spoken. I don’t know about you, but when I was in grade school my teachers told me to put on my “listening ears”. Our eyes may be dazzled by what we have seen, but what’s important as we come down from the mountain is listening closely to what Jesus will say.

Some people wonder whether God still speaks. Our Gospel today is putting us on notice that God still speaks to us, and that it’s worth paying attention to what Jesus has to say. The first and foremost way that Jesus speaks today is in the words of Holy Scripture. Jesus’ message was not just for the folks on the mountain, or even for the people who knew him in his earthly life, but for all people and for all times and places. His words are addressed to us, and we need to listen.

In the Gospel of John, the disciples say to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jo. 6:68-69). Hearing leads to believing, but hearing depends on listening. We have to have ears that are open and hearts that are open as well in order to receive the word. There is no mystery about what Jesus has to say: it is open and accessible to us in the Gospels. The Holy Scriptures as a whole speak of him. But hearing what is said will require that we pay attention and be open to the words that Jesus speaks to us today. As it says in our Gospel, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:8).

Jesus also speaks to us in our prayer. Not in a way that’s different from the Holy Scriptures, or God forbid contradicts them, but in a way that will bring his words home to us directly. Most of us think of prayer as words we speak to God, where God gets to be the listener and we get to do the talking. But prayer is conversation, in which was is said to us is far more important than what we say to the other person. There’s an old maxim that God gave us one mouth and two ears, and that in our prayer we should be observing the same ratio of careful attention to what God is saying to us.

When God spoke to the boy Samuel at night while he was minding the shrine at Shiloh, Samuel had to listen carefully to hear what God had to say. He did not know that God was calling him, so he went to the priest Eli because he thought Eli had called him, but Eli knew that God was speaking to Samuel. He told him what to say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9). He didn’t tell him to go make a speech or fill the air with words. He told him to go and to listen to what God had to say. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:8).

God speaks to us as well through the words and actions of other people, bringing Jesus to life before our eyes. We learn the lessons of the Gospel from our contact with others in the life of the church. The Gospel stories come alive as we share the life of Christ as members of his Body the church. We would not know the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, unless someone shared it with us. St. Paul writes in Romans, “How are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Rom. 10:14). None of us figures out the Gospel for himself. Think for a moment of the people who have shared faith with you, by words and action, and be thankful to God.

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:8). God brought Peter, James, and John to the mountain to see Jesus transfigured. The eyes were dazzled but their ears were also tingling as they left the mountain. Tingling, because God had spoken; tingling, because Jesus would continue to speak. All they have to do is listen and to keep on following.

  • The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee