Mark 9 begins with one of the most vivid images in all of Scripture: the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-10). This is the moment where Peter, James, and John are all given the opportunity to see and contemplate Jesus in all His glory – and they are understandably awe-struck.Jesus reveals Himself to these three in this way – and to us, through them – in order to encourage all of us to keep our eyes fixed on the goal of eternity rather than the trials and struggles which we face in this life. He brings these three with Him not only to meet first century legal requirements (requiring two or three witnesses), but also because they seem to be the three closest to Him. They are also present with Him at the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37), and in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He suffers (Mark 14:33). As at the moment of His Baptism, we see manifested here all three persons of the Trinity: the voice of the Father, the Spirit in the bright cloud, and Jesus Himself.
Next, we see another miracle: Jesus curing an epileptic boy (Mark 9:14-29). What makes this miracle particularly notable is Jesus’ conversation with the man’s father, who says to Jesus: “but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). Jesus’ reply to Him “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23) provokes one of the most beautiful responses of faith in all of scripture: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). With faith, the man is changed – as he opens Himself to the will and power of God, both he and his son are able to receive the healing Jesus came to bring: the son, of his possession, and the man of his lack of faith. We, too, should pray for faith like this.
As they travel onward, Jesus offers several key pieces of advice for the life of faith. First of all, He settles an argument among the disciples about who was the most important (Mark 9:33-37), by explaining to them that our service of the Lord isn’t about power, prestige, or becoming most important. It’s about humility and service – in imitation of Jesus Himself who always had a right to the glory the Apostles saw at the transfiguration, but who generally keeps it hidden, particularly in the ways He comes to us: as an infant, or in the form of bread and wine. Second, He points out that those who know Him do not have a monopoly on truth and goodness (Mark 9:38-41). Every act of love, kindness and generosity – even when they are not done in His name – are accepted as gift by our Heavenly Father. The last book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia captures this quite well – a Calormen soldier who dedicated his life to another deity with honor and devotion is embraced by Aslan, as it was not through his own fault that He did not know his true father. Christ is pointing out that it is not our task to judge, but His alone. Third, Jesus in no uncertain terms explains to us the consequence of harming children: “it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). May we never cause scandal so as to deserve this punishment.
Lastly, Jesus offers to us a warning (Mark 9:43-48): there are many things in our lives which may be good, in and of themselves, but which also put our souls into danger. He uses images like eyes, hands, and feet… explaining that it would be better to enter Heaven maimed than to have all our members but go to hell. Now while it’s unlikely that Jesus intended for us to literally cut our hands off or gouge out our eyes, what He certainly wants is for us to examine our lives. Are there people or habits in our lives which draw us away from Him? Do our cell phones cause us to sin? If the answer is yes, then it is important to take an honest look at our lives and our hearts and decide whether we would rather keep these things or relationships – endangering our immortal souls – or rid ourselves of these, and be free to love Him.