Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Gospel Passage – Questioning the New Testament text

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:28 – 31)

This is the story that is the central piece for Transfiguration Sunday. I know, that is pretty obvious. It (meaning the celebration of the day) is placed near the beginning of Lent which makes then time until Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I know, again obvious. But my point is this – if Moses and Elijah were NOT talking about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the events that unfolded from that, Transfiguration Sunday would NOT mark the beginning of Lent. What’s my point you might ask? My point is this – was it because Jesus needed to consult with Moses and Elijah before he went to Jerusalem? Or, did the Divine want to specially mark this time/day as the liturgical beginning of the remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Or, did the gospel writers “arrange” that this conversation should happen just before Jesus went to Jerusalem?

We can see the connection between Moses’ glowing face from the Old Testament and his appearance now when he, Jesus, and Elijah glowed. We know the significance that was Elijah’s being taken up by a chariot of fire and not seeing death; Moses’ death is not firmly recorded either. So of all the bible figures that might have joined Jesus on this mountain top, they would be the most logical. But I can’t help but feel there is some sort of guiding editorial hand at work.

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.” (Verses 32 – 33)

And if were not for Peter putting his foot in his mouth once again, I would really wonder about the whole event. But Peter, good old stumbling along to greater knowledge Peter, gives this whole account the authenticity that is needed. So yes, there is a Guiding Editorial Hand. And it is comforting at the edge of entering the season of Lent to know that the Divine has prepared the way.

“While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Now that is interesting. They kept silent. Another mark for authenticity. It was only in considering the back story and the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection that the transfiguring of Jesus and the appearance of Moses & Elijah became significant. And I hope it was Peter who was brave enough to tell the story.

“On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” (Verses 37 – 40)

These verses and the ones following are not part of the featured text for Transfiguration Sunday. It would seem after the “mountain top” experience, we are back to the day in and day out life of Jesus’ ministry. How often might we have found this true in our lives, beloved reader? We have such inspiring experiences when we feel the Divine’s presence so keenly. Then we are back to the some life we had before.

“Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (Verses 41 – 43a)

It is, beloved reader, that nature of the Christian life that mountain top experiences do not last; they give way to the need to persevere in our every day lives. Maybe for us, just as it was for the disciples, the mountain top experiences can only be properly understood and used when we see where we have come and where we are going. Selah!

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