Today’s Gospel reading follows the transfiguration. Something truly extraordinary happened on the mountain. Yes, Jesus was transfigured – but something even more important in the heart of Jesus happened: He revealed his purpose to two witnesses from the old covenant – Moses and Elijah. Luke tells us he spoke to them of his “exodus” (Luke 9:31, note footnote to the translation). Interesting, Jesus telling Moses of his own exodus! And coming down from the mountain he started to tell his three disciples about what was coming. They listened, but they did not understand. Their minds were stuck in a different way of thinking. They were dazzled by the divine light, but they did not see the true glory of Christ, the glory that would be revealed on the Cross and in the Resurrection.
So they came down, into the messy life that most people live. They came down to the noise of expectations and accusations. No wonder Jesus is angry. Who is he angry with? The father? The disciples? The crowd looking for another miracle they can take a picture of and post on their Facebook page? Because you see that’s really what religion is to most people – something they can stare at, something that they can boast about and make them feel good about themselves and give them reassurance about all the evil. And miracles are always a good boost to superficial faith. So Jesus calls them a “faithless and perverse” generation. And not just them but people of all times and places.
The ego of the disciples is damaged. Why couldn’t they do it? Because of their little faith. If they had faith, they could move mountains! Nevertheless, Mark’s version of the story makes an important addition: this kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. Matthew left that out, but it was too good to leave out and later editors added it to Matthew’s version of the story.
Move mountains? Literally? I doubt it. Jesus was not into that kind of showmanship. Don’t forget he rejected the temptation thrown at him by the devil to turn stones into bread. Jesus authorized his disciples to heal the sick and drive out demons. But just like with Peter attempting to walk on the water, they had to keep their focus on Jesus. Faith, prayer and fasting – essential to the life of the church as community. The church is the place of healing, restoration, new life. Last week the image of the church was a boat. This week the image is that of a hospital. The Orthodox tradition has used both images of boat and hospital to describe the mission and presence of the church in the world.