Mark’s Gospel has two particularly crucial affirmations of Jesus. The first affirmation occurs at the baptism. The baptism begins the first, apparently successful part of Jesus’ ministry – the first half of Mark’s Gospel. The second affirmation occurs at the transfiguration of Jesus. The transfiguration begins the testing period leading to Jerusalem and the Cross – the second half of Mark’s Gospel.
The first affirmation is in Chapter 1: “Just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:10–11).
The second affirmation is in Chapter 9, presented to us in today’s Gospel – Mark 9:2-10: “A cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’” (Mark 9:7-10). At the baptism, “he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove”. There is light and glory in the air – and the Holy Spirit. The voice is in the second person: “‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’”. The affirmation is, as it were, a dialogue within the Trinity. We are, as it were, witnesses, overhearing the dialogue.
At the transfiguration “a cloud overshadowed them”. There is darkness and menace in the air – and no mention of the Holy Spirit. The voice is in the third person: “from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’”. This dialogue is between the Father and the three disciples – and therefore with us. The disciples are not simply witnesses overhearing a dialogue. They – and therefore, we – are integral to that dialogue. “Listen to him!” The disciples are invited into the Trinitarian Community.
The different mood of this second affirmation, signals a third affirmation actually. Yet, neither we nor the disciples, are prepared for what is to come. The affirmation comes at the very end of Mark’s Gospel, not from God, but from a Gentile – the Roman guard standing by the cross: “Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mark 15:39).
Peter is later to write that, “His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus, he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you …. may become participants of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4).The Trinitarian community is one in which everyone is beloved. The words of the Roman centurion in the shadow of the Cross, are a recognition that the whole world is now offered a place in that Trinitarian Community.