His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus. Just then a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and from deep in the cloud, a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him.” The next minute the disciples were looking around, rubbing their eyes, seeing nothing but Jesus, only Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8)
Later in this month of May, many Christian denominations will celebrate Pentecost, which challenges us to go out to the whole world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Soon thereafter we enter the month of June, in which we celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride.
In Christian scripture, we hear in three of the four Gospels the “Transfiguration” stories (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36). In my decades-long LGBTQ+ ministry, I often highlight these particular Gospel stories and present them as Jesus’ “coming out” story.
In his case it is his coming out as “divine” — revealing his truth for the first time to certain of his disciples. I believe there are rich parallels to LGBTQ+ coming-out stories with guidance and direction not only for those of us who are LGBTQ, but also for our families, loved ones, friends and for our houses of worship as well, who — like the three disciples in the Transfiguration stories — can often struggle to handle such truth.
As with the coming-out experiences of many LGBTQ+ people, it is clear that in the Transfiguration stories Jesus has worried about the circumstances of revealing his truth: On which disciples and how many of them would first be told; and on where, when and how they would be told.
“Coming out” as divine
Clearly Jesus has a sense of anxiety, not only for himself but also about the reaction of the disciples and how they may not be able to handle the revelation of such truth. Of his 12 disciples, Jesus takes only three of them to a safe place, away from the regular world, to a remote and isolated place, to a mountaintop to “come out” to them as divine.
How do these three disciples handle Jesus’ coming out? They fall to the ground and are paralyzed, crippled by fear and cannot speak.
And what does Jesus do? Does he storm off? Does he express anger? Does he yell at them or express his disappointment?
No, he doesn’t do any of these things. Rather, he acts with compassion and understanding. He goes over to them, crouches down to be with them, touches them, and tells them (as he so often told all of us during his public ministry), “Do not be afraid!”
Perhaps most like the coming-out experiences of LGBTQ+ people, what does Jesus tell these three disciples before they descend from the mountaintop together?
We know from LGBTQ+ coming-out experiences, that it is not a one time event, for LGBTQ+ people do not come out all at once to everyone and everywhere. In an all-too-human exchange — and as so many LGBTQ+ people have said to others — Jesus tells these three disciples not to tell anyone else of his just-revealed truth. At least not yet.
While there are differences among all three Transfiguration versions, here is one thing they all share in common: Jesus and his three disciples do not remain on the mountaintop to wallow in the bewilderment of the occasion. Rather, they descend to return to the regular world with knowledge and the experience of his good news and to continue Jesus’ public ministry and spread his Gospel message.
Guided by the Transfiguration stories then, let those who are LGBTQ+ take comfort in the knowledge that after any bewildering, and at times challenging, coming-out experiences, it can be a time of grace where one can return to their regular lives, not only with their own good news, but so too with the good news of Jesus Christ, continuing his public ministry and living and spreading his Gospel message.
In this season of both Pentecost and Pride then, be heartened by the Transfiguration stories in these three Gospels and by Jesus’ “coming out”: Celebrate your own coming out, your truth and his. And take his Good News — and yours — out to the whole world.
A Roman Catholic lay minister in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., Donald Maher founded Out in the Diocese of Allentown as a ministry of love, welcome and respect for LGBTQ Catholics and their families.