Jesus and Peter and James and John had climbed up a mountain (or hill). 1,500 feet or 9,000 feet (there are some disagreements about which mountain it was, exactly.) John, James, and Peter saw Jesus with robes whiter than any laundry person could bleach them. They saw Elijah and Moses standing with Jesus, chatting. Moses was finally in the promised land.
Peter spoke, God spoke, and everything went back to normal. Jesus was alone and in his dingy-looking clothes.
As they started back down the mountain, Jesus gave them directions: “Don’t tell anyone about this,” he said, “Until the son of man rises from the dead.”
And although it takes about fifteen seconds to read the next bit of conversation out of Mark and Matthew and Luke, it took more than fifteen seconds to come down the mountain. And if we try to put the conversation into fifteen seconds, we may get confused.
The men coming down the mountain spread out a bit, as happens when you clamber down a path, with eroded gullies and rocks and shrubs and nettles. Peter and James and John had time to think, to try to figure out what just happened. They had time to lag behind Jesus, to chat.
Mark says that they seized on the phrase, “rise from the dead.” It wouldn’t be hard to get stuck there, I suppose, after seeing Elijah and Moses, dead but visible and talking. Was this what it meant to rise from the dead? Was this what Malachi had been talking about? They offered theories, they explored possibilities.That’s what you do when you are thinking and climbing.
When they caught up to Jesus, the question they asked was, “How does Elijah fit in the order of end times events?”
Jesus answered them pointing back to the Old Testament and then connecting their thoughts, somehow, to John the Baptist representing Elijah (as reported by Matthew). But I’m not sure that they really understood. They were still trying to make sense.
When they got to the bottom of the mountain, an unhealed child captured everyone’s attention. And it wasn’t until after the son of man was raised from the dead that they understood and then talked with others about what happened up on the mountain.
Of all the lessons that seize me from this story, one lingers. Don’t be too quick to demand understanding from our experiences with God. We don’t yet have all the data. We may not be to the A-ha moment. We just keep climbing up and down, following while we wait.