Charged with the crime of dabbling in the supernatural, we stand before the court – thinking of the Transfiguration – and plead Not Guilty. Atop a high mountain the teacher glowing in heavenly light with his students is met by one long dead father of the nation, and one long-lost hermit, and not a bit of this memory defies the laws of nature. From an enshrouding cloud resounds a voice, as though from the throne, announcing the eternal inheritance and authority of the teacher as Son, and not once were the rules which govern the universe broken. Jesus stood on no high mountain that day. Had he done then the author would have known its name. Those who would charge us of being irrational and superstitious do so because they are illiterate; they have never learned to read. The crime of the Christian is that she can read.

A nameless mountain in a land where every hill and valley has a well-worn name, where every peek and riverbed is remembered from ancient times for the deeds of heroes and giants, is quite obviously a symbol. This we cannot possibly expect the illiterate to know. A nameless mountain top is the symbolic board; the canvass on which the icon is to be written, and from which it is to be read. Let them who have ears to hear understand.

Mark’s icon presents images, not memoir. Before the Son of Man – the icon of the solidarity of God with people – stands Moses and Elijah the Tishbite; themselves powerful images of the Law and the Prophets – all the canon of Israel. As his own inheritance, God instructs Israel for Israel to listen, not by supernatural tricks and wonders, but through words and recorded human experience. It is all of this wisdom, in the form of Moses and Elijah, that comes to the resplendent Jesus and the voice says: “Listen to him.” His teaching is Hear, O Israel: Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour. This is his teaching – all the law and the prophets. Words and meditations are the wisdom of redemption, and not cheap magic tricks and illusions. If you have come looking for miracles and conversations with the dead and the absent then you had better learn to read.

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