They were three guys who just went to work everyday. They worked hard, but then again everybody in their town worked hard for a living. Their work was a little dangerous, but they were young and they were making a living. One of them was engaged to be married. They weren’t particularly smart because they didn’t do anything particularly intellectual, but they were running a business with enough success. We don’t know how religious they were growing up: they believed in God but how much that affected their daily lives we don’t know, at least we don’t know until they became adults. Their lives were fairly quiet, pretty ordinary, until someone special came by and changed their lives. Peter, James and John lived ordinary lives until Jesus came walking on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and asking them to follow Him. Then, their lives weren’t ordinary again.
I said that they weren’t intellectual, and that’s a bit of a deduction: promising young intellects were spotted in the synagogue schools and usually found their way into a prominent teacher’s circle before they were dragged off to work with their fathers full time. Peter, James and John were probably in their late teens or early twenties, and they probably thought they knew what their lives were going to be like.
Then one day Jesus asks them to come up a mountain with him. The Mount of the Beatitudes is one of the tallest in the area; it commands a spectacular view of the upper Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. For all we know, Peter, James and John were chosen at random; they weren’t random people for us, but then again we know the rest of the story and it was what these men did later on that made them important people. They weren’t chosen because of merit or ability, quite probably.
What they saw was amazing. They saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, who represented the Law and Prophets, the two halves of Jewish scriptural tradition personified. The mountain is the place where people encountered God in Jewish tradition: Moses received the Ten Commandments on the mountain and Elijah received his great commission while hiding on that same mountain. It must have been a pinnacle of their lives to that point; it’s no wonder that they wanted to stay on the mountain, to set up booths to commemorate the meeting and become a place of pilgrimage. The voice from heaven is another sign of God’s presence and another sign that this is someplace special.
So what does Jesus do when the clouds disappear? Does he tell them to spread the word, that this is the place they’re going to set up shop? Does he make the mountain the new Sinai? No. He tells them that they’re going back and Peter and James and John aren’t to tell anybody about this until after he has been raised from the dead. You can almost see them scratching their heads and saying: “Risen from the dead? What’s he talking about?”
Through the history of God interacting with His people, we have ordinary people being called to do extraordinary things. Abram was another such person: there was nothing that made him stand out from a crowd, no special qualification that made him God’s chosen one to begin a new nation. The early disciples, such as Timothy and the folks that Paul wrote to, weren’t exceptional people other than they fact that God chose them to be his presence in the world. Why is it that God chooses ordinary people? Why is it that God doesn’t choose people because of talent or skill? So that we would know that it’s really Him at work. When ordinary people are able to do extraordinary things, it means that beyond a reasonable doubt God is behind what’s going on.
We come to a mountain every week: we hear Moses and Elijah and Christ speaking to us, we hear a voice from heaven, we are fed at the table of the Kingdom. It would be nice to stay here and let the world come to us, wouldn’t it? We’re ordinary people who are just trying to make a living. However, God has called us to extraordinary things, and we haven’t earned that privilege. God has called us to be the presence of Christ in the world. To do that, we have to come down off the mountain. Though the example of people like Abram, Paul, Timothy, Peter, James and John, we can have faith that God can work through us to change the world.