|by Titan, c. 1560|
by Dr. James R. Brooks
March 2, 2014
A reflection on Matthew 17:1-9
With weather hampering worship again this winter, I want to offer this reflection on the scripture passage that would have provided a theme to our worship today. The transfiguration passage is both profound and perplexing. Typically read in worship on the last Sunday of Epiphany, this text is a profound revealing of Jesus as our Messiah and the Son of God. The inclusion of Old Testament heroes, Moses and Elijah, bring a perplexing flavor to the scene.
Perplexity: Moses and Elijah were heroic leaders hundreds of years prior to the time of Jesus. The tradition does hold that neither have earthly graves because God took them up to heaven prior to their death. There are a multitude of explanations and interpretations for the presence of Moses and Elijah in this scene. I will offer one that brings a sense of the profound out of the chaos. Moses and Elijah, according to tradition, live on because God helped them avoid death on earth. Jesus lives on having traveled through death. Jesus’ resurrection after dying on the cross becomes an even greater demonstration of God’s love and power. God so loved the world as to send His only Son. God demonstrates ultimate power by resurrecting His only Son after a death upon the cross. For us, God’s children, this witness becomes a life changing reality. God loves us so much as to save us through His Son, Jesus, and God has the power to fulfill God’s promises to save us.
Profound: Why does Jesus tell the disciples to tell no one about the event on the hill until after his resurrection? How often has transformation been derailed by telling of it before it is complete or has taken root as a lifestyle? Sometimes we need to tell others of our attempt at transformation to seek their participation in keeping us accountable. We are less likely to skip a trip to the gym if we know others will ask if we went.
Sometimes, we are distracted by telling of our early experience of change. The distraction steals from us the opportunity to experience an even more meaningful change. This is especially tempting in spiritual transformation. Stereotypes carry a kernel of truth. Recall the stereotype of the apprentice who babbles non-stop and the master who speaks few words.
It may have been that Jesus knew the disciples would not understand the meaning of the transfiguration without having experienced the even greater resurrection. We read the story from our side of the resurrection and even we struggle with the passage. The three that climbed the mountain with Jesus were yet to see the resurrection. Those disciples had experienced the power of Jesus to teach and to heal in ways that were amazing. Experience of the ultimate power of God to resurrect had yet to be seen. Why have the disciples prattle on about the transfiguration before they truly understood the event.
There is a hint at this interpretation early in the story. After Moses and Elijah appear, Peter offers to erect dwellings so all three (Moses, Elijah and Jesus) could have shelter. This implies that the three will be staying for sometime. As the Bible remembers the scene, God then interrupts to say “This is my Son . . .” as if to say . . . “Peter, you are missing it. Moses and Elijah are among my loved children but this one, Jesus, is my Son - LISTEN TO HIM!”
Transformation that is to be trusted and lasting comes from God. Maybe you pray for brokenness to be healed. Maybe you pray for your healthy faith to grow. Regardless of the change, how often do we jump to conclusions and explanations prior to listening to God’s leading.
Spiritual discipline is, in part, a practiced submission to God’s will in our lives. Set aside and let loose of our need to control or determine. Allow the small still voice of God to speak into our souls as we experience healing, change, growth.
This Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and next Sunday we begin the journey of Lent. It is a journey of preparation to receive Jesus on Easter. Much of that journey is to recognize the brokenness / distractions within that keep us deaf to God’s voice. Today God says, “listen to my Son Jesus.” May this be a theme to your journey to Easter.
Helping Children Engage the Text: After reading this story with your family, invite your children to share what it would be like to have been there. Would they be scared? What question would they ask Jesus about the event? If Jesus asked them to wait till Easter to tell people about God’s love, who would they tell first? When Jesus is transfigured and shiny, would it smell like fresh sheets or new roses?
NOTE: This is a text where it might be more meaningful to help children have an experience of engaging the text, pondering the text, using their imagination rather than leading them to a singular lesson. This story is about an event beyond our experience and beyond our words. It is a meeting of the divine and humanity - special and profound and beyond our five sense.
Helping Individual Reflection: In a quiet place, read this story alone. Read slowly and allow yourself to enjoy each sentence on its own. Allow yourself to recall the heroic efforts of Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. Allow yourself to remember the prophetic work of Elijah to keep God’s people in relationship with God. Give yourself the grace filled time to ponder the sacred work of Jesus to give you eternal life where you are invited to the table with God. When you are done with the story, allow yourself to pray your thanks to God and some quiet to listen to God loving you.