Exodus 34:29-35; Like 9:28-43a
Chapter 9 begins with Jesus giving authority to his disciples and sending them out to heal, cast out, and proclaim reign of God. And they have been.
But at the end of this text, they fail—one time. Not because they don’t care, not because they are lazy, not because they have any excuses. They really try to be faithful and cast out the demon in this boy. But they simply cannot do it. They want to, they try to, they give their best effort—it’s just not enough. They fail.
All the while, Jesus is nowhere around. He’s up on the mountaintop with the important people: Moses, Elijah, and, of course, his favorite disciples, Peter, James, and John. Jesus is removed from these lowly working disciples by distance but also by holiness. The Father is booming complements from the clouds, Moses and Elijah (the two biggest figures in Jewish history) are chatting with him, and Peter’s trying to build some condos up there so they can stay away even longer.
In the meantime, the other disciples are down in the real world, working away on Jesus’ behalf, trying to be faithful, trying to do the right thing. All alone. No Jesus around. He’s up the mountain being all shiny.
What do they get for their efforts and their faithfulness? Mean, condemning Jesus, losing patience with them for trying their best to heal this boy. “Faithless and perverse”? How long do I have to put up with you? Wow, thanks a lot, Jesus.
Ever been there? Have you ever been judged, condemned, criticized when you’re only trying to do the right thing? Sometimes, regardless of our best efforts, something doesn’t work out, we make a mistake, we blow it. And the last thing we need is someone—especially Jesus—rubbing it in, making us feel worse. C’mon, these disciples are trying their best! At least give them some kudos for that!
If there’s one thing we all have in common as human beings is that at one time or another, we all feel like failures. Although we rarely show it to anyone, we all feel incompetent and insecure. We all feel like we’re in over our heads and are nothing but big screw-ups. It doesn’t help if Jesus tells us he feels that way about us too. We already know that, Jesus. We really don’t need you piling on and making it public.
So here’s what we often end up doing: nothing. Instead of taking a risk and possibly failing—humiliating ourselves in the process, we choose to stay unnoticed and quiet. We don’t take the risk of messing up, of making a mistake. Instead, we do nothing.
Surely Jesus can’t criticize us now! After all, no mistake, no blame, right? If we don’t get involved, if we keep our mouths shut, if we ignore the problems and evils around us, can’t make it worse. There won’t be any more starving children if we don’t feed them. There won’t be any more wars if we don’t speak out against them. There won’t be any more people in poverty if we don’t give away more money.
And what do you think Jesus’ response to that is going to be? “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”
So we can try, sometimes fail, and get rebuked. Or we can make fewer mistakes—which usually means doing less—and still get rebuked. And all the while, shiny Jesus is far away, up a mountain, hanging out with his favorites, leaving us to do all his work. Then criticizing us when we don’t do it well enough. It’s like we can’t win. We can’t measure up to shiny Jesus, but we’re expected to.
Here’s where our Lutheran theology absolutely shines! We talk in this church about being 100% broken, immersed in sinfulness, tainted in every aspect of who we are. Nothing we do can every really be completely free from brokenness because we, ourselves, are completely broken. Jesus understands that, and is simply stating the obvious. We are broken people. We are faithless and perverse. He does have to bear with us and put up with us. It’s not condemnation, it’s reality. Jesus is honest about that. Can we?
But that’s not the whole picture. Our beautiful Lutheran theology keeps going. We also understand that in Christ we are also 100% holy, immersed in faithfulness, cleansed in every aspect of who we are. Everything we do has elements of beauty and goodness, because in Christ we, ourselves, are made beautiful and good.
Both at the same time. Sinner and saint. Broken and holy. Not 50/50; not sometimes one and sometimes the other. But both at the same time, all the time. In the midst of our brokenness we are made whole. In the midst of our sinfulness we are forgiven. In the midst of our faithlessness we are made faithful. In the midst of our perversity we are made holy.
The Jesus who points out the obvious regarding the disciples’ brokenness is the same Jesus who was sent by the Father to bring you wholeness. The Jesus who casts evil from the boy is the same Jesus who does so for you. The Jesus who goes up the mountain in glory is the same Jesus who comes down to be with you. Both at the same time. All the time.
So, yes, we admit we are helpless. We admit we aren’t good enough. We recognize that the world isn’t always a better place because of our efforts. We know we fail. And Jesus knows it too. Obviously, if you read this text. That’s why he has come to you. To make you new. To heal you, to forgive you, to shower you in grace and mercy. To immerse you in love. To make you whole.
The Transfigured Jesus can do it. That’s why he’s shiny. That’s why Moses and Elijah are there. That’s why the Father booms from the cloud that this is the Son, the Beloved. We can listen to him: that we are broken, yes; but that we are also made new. That’s what shiny Jesus does. He comes down the mountain to you.