This weekend many congregations around the world heard the scripture story of Jesus' transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. It's a strange, splendid story of how Jesus suddenly becomes filled with heavenly glory – his “true colors” - figuratively and literally. He shines beyond-brilliantly, as do a couple of other now-heavenly beings – Moses and Elijah -- who suddenly appear atop Tabor's tall peak to converse our luminous Lord. This is a story intended to inspire great awe, perhaps a little terror as well.
It is also intended to inspire some laughs. Maybe big laughs! If The Comic Lens could be so bold as to suggest….
After all, Peter is on the scene! And, as I've noted before, any time we see Peter in the text, we’re invited to think “Barney Fife.” Like Barney, Peter is always presented as overly anxious, overly enthusiastic, overly officious, and overly misguided. Therefore, like Barney, he often makes the goofiest suggestions!
Like what comes out of his mouth up there on Mt. Tabor as he beholds the transfigured, glowing presences of the Bible’s great giants of the faith. He says to Jesus: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
What in the world is Peter talking about? Some critics think he is assuming shrines need to be built because in the Greek world (the world of Peter and the Gospels) epiphanies were honored and memorialized in this way. Other critics think Peter is assuming sukkot-like tents need to be built; in the Jewish world (also the world of Peter and the Gospels) this would be honoring and memorializing the experience of the Exodus in the way God has commanded.
In either case, Peter is W-R-O-N-G. God quickly shoots – and shouts – Jesus’ #1 disciple down. “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to Him!” resounds from a cloud as it overshadows the disciples (Peter as well as James and John), causing all of them to fall to the ground, shaking with fear.
It is easy – and undoubtedly quite common – to interpret God’s dressing down of Peter and Co. as wholly serious and regrettable – the kind of thing that should cause us to beat our breasts and mourn our own similar and sinful ignorance.
But it’s a lot more fun - and maybe more theologically accurate – to see Barney standing before Jesus, Moses and Elijah sounding a lot more like this….
Of course, he wouldn’t be commanding the esteemed visitors as to what they should be doing; rather, he’s pacing to and fro before them, barking imperiously with his nasally/squeaky voice his very important plans for having he and his "deputies" construct the appropriate dwellings. And why? Because. It. Is. Good. To. Do. This. He is very aware of which of God’s 6,000 ordinances this construction project complies with, and he’s about to loudly and proudly announce it (as well as pull Jesus aside and tell him that when you stand on top of this mountain, face the wind, and put the tongue to the top of your mouth, you can’t say anything that begins with the letter “s”)...
...when God, rolling His eyes into the very top of His head (if God indeed has eyes and a top to His head), exasperatingly yells....
Imagine Barney’s over-the-top bug-eyed trembling as his hair turns into several shaking strings....
Imagine any other number of Barney-esque moves if indeed he were Peter! He loudly reminds James and John that he’s the disciple invested with the sword (to ward off any craziness when the crowds come to visit the shrines), he’s the only disciple who knows how to use that sword...as he pulls it out of its sheath and he slices his leg!
He’s sure he’s got the side of Moses' dwelling to stay up, he’s sure he’s got of Moses' dwelling to stay up, he’s sure he’s got the side of Moses' dwelling to stay up (while everyone else is shaking their head), and when he steps away, it comes crashing down upon him (bwah bwah bwah)! He proudly observes this is just like the time God commanded Joshua to build the Jericho Wall!
The Comic Lens invites you to let Barney (er, Peter) help you think of any number of ways and times you've messed up your invitation to behold God’s glory and simply be – listening and learning and not doing anything. And to remember not in a way that makes you feel bad and condemnatory about yourself so much as silly, and grateful for a God who may get exasperated, very exasperated, but still gives us another chance. (At least that's what our Bible says!) Always.
Let that be true about what this story says about your crazy, overly misguided congregation, too.
And the Church.
After all, Barney (er, Peter) has been given the keys of the Kingdom!
Even if, when he pulls them out, he's liable to slice his leg....