On the night before he was felled by an assassin, Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. closed his speech in Memphis (TN) by saying: “Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Certainly that same sentiment could well be spoken in faith by Peter, James, and John after their encounter with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah atop the mountain of the Transfiguration. The broad vista and magnificent view from the top of the traditional mountain (Tabor) and of the surrounding mountains as well, provides two unique perspectives.
We tend to gaze up at mountains. It is a natural human reaction. The majesty of a mountain draws our focus and causes us to be uplifted. The new perspective on where we usually are – that is below – certainly impacts how we see the land below.
What we seldom do atop a mountain is to look up. We are at the top, why gaze at what is above? Unless there is a higher mountain, one does not usually get a closer look at the clouds or celestial objects from the top of a mountain.
When Jesus takes this chosen few to the top of the mountain they are not focused on things below, but rather on things above. No, they are not gazing on stars and planets, but on heaven itself. The presence of Moses and Elijah – the Law and the Prophets – provides perspectives of the truth that is and that is yet to be fulfilled. The voice of the Father announcing that Jesus is the Son comes, not from below, but from above.
As last week Jesus took us to the wilderness, this week he takes us to the mountain. The insight of Dr. King that he has been to the mountain top and seen the Promised Land is true also for all of us. Through our celebration of the Eucharist we encounter a foretaste of heaven and heavenly things. We get a glimpse of what is yet to come.
We all have moments of spiritual highs as well as our times spent in the desert. As eventually Jesus had to leave the desert to engage the world in his public ministry, so Jesus must also come down from the mountaintop in order to complete his mission.
The feeling coming down from a mountain is much different than the feeling of coming out of the desert. While both perspectives are life-changing, they each leave us with a different sense of longing and purpose.
Like Dr. King, we have all seen the mountaintop. Our Gospel today reminds us that we have been there and that we will be there again. Whatever the struggles and challenges of the present are, and no matter how much worse things might become, the promise of the mountaintop is secure. The Lord calls us to both experiences, and we cannot allow the present times to obscure the majesty of the mountain that the Lord has shown us.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.