Transfiguration of Our Lord

by Bear Wade

Luke 9:28-43
Transfiguration of Our Lord
Analysis by Paul Jaster

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now 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. 33Just 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. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowe d them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” 36When 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.

37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly 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. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean sp irit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

DIAGNOSIS: Possessed

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) : Shrieking
Luke presents an illuminating pairing on the last Sunday after the Epiphany (if one dares to proclaim the exorcism of the demon-possessed son as the foil to the story of the transfiguration). The shrieking, convulsing, foaming, self-mutilating, restless child is a textbook case of the “presenting symptoms” of a world gone mad (or what Jesus calls “a faithless and perverse generation”). We see it all the time, especially on the talk-shows around four or five p.m.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) : Possessed
Many supposedly enlightened people would diagnose this shrieking as a mental illness or epilepsy and call in Dr. Phil. But, the physician on call is Luke. And Dr. Luke always (in every case) diagnoses such behavior as demonic possession. Someone is taken forcibly from being “owned,” “possessed,” “driven,” and “animated” by God and given over to some other destructive power. This is the same problem that Moses had with Hebrew slaves in Egypt and Elijah had with those given over to “natural-force gods” like Baal. Perhaps this is the reason for the “consult” between Jesus, Moses and Elijah and their discussion of a “way out” (vv. 30-31). A solution. A cure. An exodus. “Help us, Dr. Phil. Help us!”

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) : Powerless
But, there are some illnesses Phil can’t address. Nor, can Moses and Elijah. Or, even all the disciples of our Lord put together–as sympathetic and well-intentioned as they might be. “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not” (v. 40). “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child” (v. 38). Dr. Luke is big on “only” Jesus. Without Jesus…without Jesus only, solely and uniquely (with Moses and Elijah lost in the cloud)…the very Son of God purposefully and intentionally dying on a cross and rising…there is no departure, no exodus, no solution, no cure. No way out. Moses couldn’t find one. Nor Elijah. Before the full glory of God, there is only fear and trembling. And the shrieks and silence of a dying and decaying world.

PROGNOSIS: Repossessed

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) : Peacefully Departing
Quite deliberately and ironically, Dr. Luke has the father of the possessed son “echo” the very same words God booms out on top of the mount of transfiguration: “I beg you to look at my Son; he is my only child. Listen to him.” Oddly, the cure is very much like the symptom. Or, maybe not so oddly, considering that many antidotes are made of the original virus only implanted, transfigured and transformed in someone or something else. Jesus heads off to a cross. Jesus is “seized” by sinners and is crucified to death just like a condemned slave justly executed. And yet, Jesus does not convulse and shriek like a demon-possessed child of a faithless and perverse generation. Instead he takes this pain and agony and transforms it into his peaceful prayer: Pater, eis cheiras sou paratithemai to pneuma mou (“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”). “Red Fred” Danker obs erves that, in contrast to Mark (who sees the death of Jesus as a shrieking exorcism), Luke (who emphasizes Jesus’ return to the Father) records instead the prayer of peace, whose p-sounds in the Greek suggest composure (Jesus and the New Age, Revised and Expanded, p. 380). Jesus dies at peace with God.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) : Repossessed
Unlike all the deaths of all the children of a faithless and perverse generation, the death of Jesus on the cross is not the ultimate “separation” from his Father, but rather it is his “return” to the Father. This is what Jesus was “to accomplish at Jerusalem.” And when we cling to his promises in faith (“Today you will be with me in Paradise!”) it accomplishes our return as well. (Paradise is also a peaceful p-word. The most peaceful of them all!) After Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit and heals the boy, he gives him back to his Father. Whose father? The boy’s father or Jesus’ Father? Obviously, there is a repossession here. In fact, there are several. Jesus wrestles us free from other powers and gives us back to God. Right ownership by God simu ltaneously restores the broken family/social relationships. Which, in turn, is healthy and liberating for us personally as well. This is a real exodus. A way out. A liberation. Here are three healings–spiritual/eternal, social/familial, and personal/physical–all rolled up into one. Put that one in your handbag, Dr. Phil!

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) : Passionately Telling
Disciples of Jesus cannot cure the problems of a world that is demonically possessed. Only Jesus can. But those who look upon Jesus and see Jesus as God’s unique Son and experience his rebuke of sin and the powerful repossession of their life can “echo” God with passion and compelling conviction and say, “I beg you, look! Look at God’s Son! God’s only Son. Listen to him.” Yes, Peter, James and John remained “silent” after their mountain top experience. But that was only because the cross had not yet happened, the Spirit had not yet come, and Jesus had not yet opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. This is indicated by Dr. Luke’s note “in those [pre-Easter] days.” But since then, Easter has happened, Pentecost has come and we have a zillion helps to help us understand the Scriptures. And so, enough of the shrieking of daytime talk and self-help cures. How abo ut a big dose of Jesus crucified and raised and a passionate yet peaceful telling of the Gospel in Christ’s name to all the nations of the world? Wouldn’t that be transfiguring and transforming?


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