The Transfiguration of Our Lord

by Crossings

The Metamorphosis of Jesus so That Sinners Can Be Too
Mark 9:2-9
(The Transfiguration of Our Lord)
Analysis by Ed Schroeder and Cathy Lessmann


2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


DIAGNOSIS: Disciples (and sinners) not metamorphosed

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Not Listening, Tongue-tied
This Gospel reading on the final Sunday of Epiphany provides a matching episode to the opening Gospel of the season, Jesus’ baptism. Once again the heavenly voice designates Jesus the servant-son, the approved one, “the Beloved” (cf. Isaiah 42). But here the affirmation is repeated with the addendum, “listen to him.” And that’s the problem! Throughout his gospel, Mark continuously depicts Peter, James and John as those who never catch on as to who Jesus is. In fact, Peter (the leader of the pack) has just been rebuked for his incorrect identification of Jesus and yet he does it again, even when he sees Jesus so stunningly “transfigured in front of him! You can just hear God, like a teacher who’s explained the same thing over and over again saying, “You’re just not listening. LISTEN to me! I’m showing you who Jesus is!” Yet in spite of the marvelous illumination, Peter stays “in the dark” and mistakenly identifies Jesus as being in the same line-up with other Old Testament revealers: Moses and Elijah. His three booths proposal betrays that he does not (yet) see or make any distinction between these God-revealers. Even though we Christians today live with the story’s last chapter (Easter) wide open, we too are still vexed with the problem of mis-valuing Jesus. We too are tempted to rank him along with other God-revealers, maybe even the greatest, but with no qualitative difference. Or we like to package him up into neat little tents, or worse of all, we just leave him behind when we go mountain climbing, going solo.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Terrified
Peter, James and John are terrified (9:6) when they are overshadowed by the cloud — the presence of God. And rightly so! When face to face with God, fear is the proper posture for sinners. It is only not so when Jesus covers us, and takes us along to face the divine majesty. These three who are not (yet) “listening to him,” fail to use Jesus as their “cover.” Their terror betrays their mis-trust, their mis-identification and mis-use of Jesus. But, as Jesus had diagnosed on the Sermon on the Mount (“O you little-faiths!”), fear is un-faith.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Disfavored
Not “listening” to the Son of God’s favor leaves people (even disciples) in God’s distinct disfavor. If Jesus is only #3 in a line-up with Elijah and Moses, then it follows that he is not the “changer” — the one who brings about metamorphosis — of the Moses-Elijah covenant which means that those words Moses brings from God at Sinai still stand. They are grim for uncovered sinners when the Sinai contract is all we have going for us: “God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children until the third and fourth generations.” Simply stated: Sinners die. Or, sinners don’t get God favor, they miss out on being His kids.

PROGNOSIS: Jesus’ Metamorphosis gets disciples (and sinners) transfigured

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: The Metamorphosis of Jesus brings favor
Mark uses the Greek-rooted term “metamorphosis” (meaning, “change in form”) for naming that transaction on the mountain which Peter, James and John witnessed. They saw the Messiah (Whom they didn’t even yet recognize as such) transformed into the Luminous Lord of Easter. But they didn’t catch on that he was/is both until Jesus literally went through that metamorphosis again the slow way — taking their “disfavor,” their sin, their death, all the way to the cross as their Messiah and then being Eastered from his grave three days later. Instead of rejecting sinners (Sinai-covenant failures) Jesus (the Beloved Son) fraternizes with them, dies for them, and thus trans-forms God’s attitude towards them. The old Sinai contract gets totally replaced by the Beloved Son who thus “covers” sinners, transforming them into his own treasured siblings.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Listening
If in fact Peter is the writer behind Mark as some scholars speculate, then we can say that it was his own metamorphosis which enabled him to be so honestly self-revealing about his former stupidity. That metamorphosis involves sinners being transformed into saints (God’s kids). Peter could be so honest because he had finally “listened” to Jesus. His own fear of facing God had been turned into confidence now that he trusted in the “Beloved” who had gone to the cross for him and thereby changed God’s attitude towards him. The same is true for the rest of us sinners. We experience metamorphosis, become sinner-saints, as our fear is transformed into confident faith by the simple act of listening to Jesus. Really listening! When we listen to Jesus we “tune out” all the other persons/programs we’ve been listening to (trusting) which have falsely promised us life, peace and joy. And maybe here’s the biggest metamorphosis of all: we no longer anticipate meeting God with fear and trepidation, but on the contrary, we joyfully anticipate that meeting, reveling in our newfound status of Jesus’ beloved siblings — the apples of the Father’s eyes.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Listening Out Loud
Once he was transformed from chief bumbler into a confident Christ-confessor, Peter was no longer caught up in his fear “not knowing what to say” (9:6). Rather, he became one of Jesus’ best (and most outspoken) spokespersons, going everywhere he could, telling everyone he could, what he had seen and heard about this amazing Messiah-Lord who transforms sinners into saints. So also when we, instead of facing our situations, relationships, and ailments on our own, get to climb the mountain with Jesus, instead of all on our own, hear God’s admonition to “Listen to my Beloved Son.” The more we listen, the louder our listening becomes until our lives simply shout out the Good News of this transformed, transforming Beloved Son.

Author

  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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