by Father Mike Stubbs
When I am traveling on a vacation, I will sometimes carry along a tent. Then I can camp out a few nights, instead of staying in a motel. It’s another way to see the world, to be close to nature. It can also save me a bit of money.
When Peter, James and John climb up the mountain with Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mk 9:2-10, Peter offers to set up tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, who have appeared in glory. What is going on? Have the apostles brought along tents with them? Why does Peter blurt out this suggestion?
The tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah can remind us of tents that the people of Israel stayed in when they left Egypt and journeyed through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. Those tents can also remind us of the Feast of Tabernacles.
The word “tabernacle” comes from the Latin word for “tent.” Originally, the Feast of Tabernacles took place during the harvest season. The workers for the harvest would set up tents, or booths, in the fields as temporary shelters. (Sometimes, the word translated in our Gospel reading as “tents” is, instead, translated as “booths.”)
But as time went on, the focus of the feast changed. Besides being a harvest festival, the Feast of Tabernacles was eventually linked to the journey to the Promised Land.
People would stay in temporary huts, or tents, to celebrate it, even if they were not out in the fields working the harvest. They were remembering the time when their ancestors traveled through the desert.
Jesus has brought Peter, James and John on top of the mountain in order to reveal to them his true identity. He is the Son of God, destined to die on the cross, but then to rise to new life in the resurrection. The voice from heaven proclaims: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
The phrase “beloved Son” reminds us of the command that God issues to Abraham, to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac on the mountain: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love.” Jesus will also be sacrificed on Calvary.
But it will not end there. On Easter, Jesus will rise to new life in the resurrection. Peter, James and John catch a glimpse of his risen glory in this event on the mountain: “He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
This passage from death to life echoes the journey of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to life in the Promised Land. The tents that Peter proposes to set up help to make that connection.
The season of Lent invites us to join Jesus in that journey.