"We are climbing Jacob's ladder... higher, higher,
Soldiers of the cross."
- African-American spiritual
Passengers going home, leaving home, anticipating or apprehensive, lined up for seat assignments in the crowded airport. I was going home, but I wanted to stay.
Let's build three shelters - one for you, Lord, one for Moses.
Quiet, Peter. Listen to the Lord! Blustering, foot-in-the-mouth Peter out of line again. You cant stay. Youre needed below.
But, Lord, the climb was so hard. Five, 10, a hundred times I wanted to turn back My legs hurt; the pack was heavy. There were lesser peaks but I didnt stop. And now you want to turn around and go back?
Peter, James, and John had accompanied Jesus to the top of a mountain that later would be called The Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus chose these three, this opportunity to reveal more of the mystery about why He left heavens mountain to come to earth.
The three disciples were astonished as Jesus face suddenly shone like the sun, and his clothes were as white as the light (Matthew 17:2). Moments later the patriarchs, Moses and Elijah, were standing there, too, on top of the world - or was it out of the world? No wonder Peter wanted to stay.
I think of this Bible story every time Im on top of my world, experiencing something so above the mundane Id give anything to forget about housework, deadlines and other responsibilities, and stay in the rarefied atmosphere of my mountain.
The first time I felt like a Peter clone I was leaving the School of Christian Writing at the Billy Graham Headquarters in Minneapolis. It had been a glorious week, and I didnt want to go home. I knew just how Peter felt. How could I begin a writing career amid the clatter of ordinary life?
I remembered that experience as I listened to a recent sermon: Too many of us worry about progressing up the corporate ladder, when we should be thinking about traveling down the servant ladder. The top of a mountain, the speaker explained, is an isolation ward, an ivory tower where people often go not only to lead, but to evade the responsibilities and the greater opportunities of life.
Peters question, and mine, about why Jesus sends us down from our mountaintops, is answered in the verses that follow the Transfiguration scene (Matthew 17:14-21). Crowds of sick and spiritually hungry people, all clamoring to see Jesus, were gathered at the foot of the mountain, and the other disciples were powerless to meet such overwhelming need. Andrew, Phillip, and the rest of the disciples wanted Jesus and the other three to come down from the mountain, too.
A few times in my younger, fitter days, Ive had literal mountaintop experiences - four or five times to the top of Maines Mount Katahdin, and several treks around the Alpine foothills in southern Germany. Its difficult to think of a more exhilarating feeling than to stand on such a high elevation, enjoying the view and bursting with pride at what youve accomplished. But after you catch your breath you come to a startling conclusion: every bit of the beauty you see is below you. The view from the bottom of a mountain looking up cant begin to compare to that of standing on the top and looking down.
But perhaps we have to climb the mountain, get away, rest, as I did on my recent vacation back among the mountains of Maine, before we understand that viewpoint. Jesus took Peter and the others to the top of a mountain, something they could understand, so he could take them to a higher, spiritual plane and teach them something they didnt yet understand.
I think thats what the minister meant in his sermon: Go to the top, become a success, reach your goals, but dont stay there. Take what youve learned or gained and come on back down to the hungry and spiritually malnourished, and share not only your means but yourself with them.
Like all ladders, the one in Jacobs dream went both ways: and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it (Genesis 28:12). Though we sing about climbing Jacobs ladder as though we were on the way up to a spiritual valedictory, the true message of this event is that God comes down to us to meet our need, and then calls earthly climbers of peaks great and small to, go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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