My Mountain, Your Valley

My Mountain, Your Valley

Thursday, 4 August 2016  | Narelle - MECS Principal
Two stories alongside one another from Matthew 17.

Firstly, “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

And then, “When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.”

All but the Gospel of John tell the story of the Jesus’ transfiguration and each end their account with the story of the ‘demon-possessed’ boy.  It’s so easy to read these stories and be more impressed with the ‘theologically significant’ moment of Jesus’ transfiguration, and be disconnected from the drama playing out below. Without doubt, what was happening on top of the mountain was significant. This moment reveals Jesus for who He truly is, fully divine, above both the Law and the Prophets (as symbolised by Moses and Elijah), foretelling his death and predicting his resurrection. This is what the Christian story hangs on! Meanwhile, below in the valley, is the real stuff of life. The cry and anguish of a father whose son is severely afflicted and as a result, rejected by the community.

The ‘meanwhile’ situations abound in our own community and the wider world. Alongside the pure joy and celebration of seeing new life come into the families of our students and staff in recent days, there are those who are struggling with injury, illness, unemployment and mental health issues. Instances of violence erupt with alarming frequency around the world. Our news services zero in on the tragic distortions of human behaviour. I’m sure you can also think of situations known to you that add to life’s extremes of joy and heartache.

So how does glory on the mountain speak to agony in the valley? What does it mean that these stories follow each other in the Biblical account? Did Jesus’ light cast a beam towards those who waited in the dark? Did the crowd glimpse the cloud that descended over Peter, James, and John? Was Jesus oblivious to the drama below him? We’ll never know.

However, writer Debbie Thomas would suggest that there is a tendency to interpret the Bible as if its stories apply only to me — me, an individual. My mountaintop experience. My valley. My relationship with God. She would suggest that this is very misguided. God’s word is spoken to us in the context of community. The reality is that my mountain lies right next to your valley and that your pain does not cancel out my joy. It is entirely possible for one person to sit in church and bask in the presence of God’s Spirit while close by another cries out because the ache of God’s absence feels unbearable. The situation remains the same if applied more widely. We occupy so many mountains, while our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world dwell in valleys of hunger, warfare, violence, and abuse.

Debbie Thomas would say that this is the great challenge to the Christian life and to the Church. To hold the agony of the valley together with the glory of the mountain. What this looks like is not to deny either but embrace both. In our community, out of our love for one another, we stand and celebrate with the joyous, we bring meals and support to the anguished and surround the broken with our love, presence and prayers.

I haven’t forgotten the important end to the two stories. Jesus came down from the mountain and he heals the tormented boy. As we are reminded by the psalmist, hope abounds because ‘Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.’ (Ps 126:5-6)

The testimony that comes from being high on the mountain is birthed in the pain of the valley.  

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