Peter’s flub ups at the Transfiguration

August 3, 2017

The Pastor's Page

The Transfiguration may have been a great day for Jesus, but it was a bad day for Peter. Jesus sparkled, but Peter failed to shine.

Peter fell asleep on Jesus. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray (Lk 9:28), and Jesus asked Peter to pray with him on this very important occasion. As Jesus began to pray (Lk 9:29a), Peter and the others promptly dozed off (Lk 9:32a). It was perfectly understandable. They had traveled from one town and village to another (Lk 8:1), they had just finished an arduous mountain climb, and they were tired. It foreshadowed the Agony in the Garden when Jesus again would ask Peter to pray (Lk 22:40), and Peter would again fall asleep (Lk 22:45). Peter disappointed Jesus when it came to praying with him and for him.

Peter wanted to do all of the work himself. Peter had a close partnership with James and John, so close, in fact, that Peter had invited them to his house in Capernaum (Mk 1:29), and they may have lived together. All three were with Jesus for the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5:4-10), the visit to Jairus’s house (Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51), and a conversation on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3). They were mutual friends and fellow workers. Yet, as Jesus was transfigured, Peter brazenly suggested, “If you wish, I will make three tents” (Mt 17:4). What is with “I”? Peter disregarded and disrespected James and John with his desire to go it alone and leave them out. He was being a controller. He wanted to be in charge. It was a selfish and prideful move.

Peter offered to make three tents, not one. If tents would have been necessary, Peter had a poor grasp on how many would be needed. He may have thought that Moses and Elijah were going to stay with Jesus for a while, or that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are similar in rank and importance. Yet, “when the disciples raised their eyes, there was no one else but Jesus alone” (Mt 17:8). Moses and Elijah had vanished. Jesus stands alone as the supreme law giver and the greatest of all prophets, and if tents were going to be built, only one would have been needed.

Peter wanted the high life on the mountain. The Transfiguration was awesome. Peter had scaled the heights and been swallowed up in the clouds. There were bright lights, celebrity guests, and a heavenly voice. It was sensational, exhilarating. His spirits were soaring. When Peter offered to set up the tents, it was as if he were saying, “I wish this moment could last forever. Let’s stay up here and bask in the glory. This is fun. This is the good life. Who needs to go back to work?” Peter wanted sit tight and take it easy.

Peter was duped into tempting Jesus. Peter had been fooled by the devil once already. When Jesus predicted his Passion for the first time, Peter rebuked Jesus and discouraged him from embracing his suffering and death (Mt 16:22). Jesus knew that Peter loved him and wanted the best the best for him, yet Jesus scolded Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus knew that Satan had tricked Peter into tempting him. When Peter offered to build a tent for Jesus, “he did not know what he was saying” (Lk 9:33b). Unfortunately, like before, Peter was tricked into being Satan’s mouthpiece. If Satan through Peter could entice Jesus to allow him to build a tent, and then if Jesus would move into the tent and stay there, it would have delayed or prevented Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Jesus ignored the offer, fended off the temptation, and went down the mountain the next day.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

View all posts by Father Michael Van Sloun
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