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Tuesday, March 01, 2011
SEEING THINGS IN A NEW LIGHT—THOUGHTS ON THE LECTIONARY PASSAGES FOR MARCH 6, 2011, TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY, THE LAST SUNDAY OF THE EPIPHANY AND THE LAST SUNDAY BEFORE LENT—BY JIM OGDEN

Lectionary Scriptures: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2:1-11 OR Psalm 99:1-9, II Peter 16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

This week’s Gospel lesson tells the story of Jesus taking Peter and James and John up a mountain where they saw him in a new light. Something really strange happened there. Matthew 17:2 says Jesus “was transfigured before them.” This Sunday is called “Transfiguration Sunday,” a day to reflect on that event. The Greek word for transfiguration is metamorphosis. It refers to a major change.

So—did Jesus change, or did the way the disciples saw him change? Is it a moment when they suddenly see Jesus in a new way—in a new light?

It’s probably a waste of time to ask what “really” happened on that mountaintop. After all, mountaintop experiences cannot often be put into words. Matthew’s account tells us that Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (vs. 2) Moses and Elijah were there (vs. 3), but before we put too much weight on these as literal description, we need to note that “when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” (vs. 8)

The light shining on a scene, its source and direction, can make a lot of difference. Photographers are aware of the power of light to transform a scene, sometimes taking a whole series of photos of the same subject in different light. Movie makers spend a lot of time considering the appropriate light to convey the mood and image they desire. We even have an expression that recognizes the power of light to change the way we see things. We talk about seeing something “in a new light,” or say, “That’s sheds a whole new light on the matter.”

This day Peter and James and John seemed to see Jesus in a whole new light. They saw the power of God at work in him in a way they hadn’t grasped before. The voice they hear says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” (vs. 5) This new realization inspires awe in them. (vs. 6)

The epistle reading purports to give us the voice of Peter (although probably written later by an unknown admirer) describing those who were with Jesus on that occasion as “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (II Peter 1:16) Majesty is a word of grandeur. Majesty inspires awe. So much of what we are dealing with here is a response to the unexpected and mysterious insights that sometimes “dawn” on us. The readings from the Psalms reflect on the awe-inspiring majesty of kings. “The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble! . . . Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:1-3)

We find it difficult in our time and place to relate to kings, but are we able to stand in awe of the light of God in the people we meet in our daily living? Can we see them in a new light? Are there times when, standing in the presence of Jesus, new light is shed on all of life? There is available light and artificial light, back light, overhead light, the burst of a camera’s flash, late afternoon light casting long shadows, the light of a flickering candle in a dark room. Each day we are called to take note of the light that gives substance to our living. Where is the light today? Where are we going to find it? Where is it leading us? What kind of transfigurations are taking place on our mountains and in our valleys?

When the disciples came down from that mountain, they immediately met someone who needed healing. They had been to the mountaintop, but down in the valley they were unable to help this man. (Matthew 17:14-16) Jesus chided them about their “little faith.” (vss. 17-20) Standing in the light at the top of the mountain is not all that matters. Carrying the light into the valleys of life is equally important. What good is it if we go from Sunday worship glowing with enthusiasm and are unable to help those we meet during the week?

Miscellaneous other related and perhaps unrelated thoughts on this week’s readings:

1. The reading from Exodus is another mountaintop story, this time about Moses. Did Matthew intentionally intend to draw a parallel between Jesus and Moses? Certainly the presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus is significant, fitting Matthew’s interest in presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of the Jewish traditions of which he was part. Mountaintop experiences can sometimes help us see our own history and traditions in a new light, help us make new connections with the past which has laid the foundations upon which we are building.

2. Note that Psalm two contains the words spoken about Jesus on the mountaintop. “You are my son; today I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7) In the Psalm they are probably applied to the entire Jewish people, or perhaps to a king who is being crowned. What if, in fact, those words were heard by all of God’s people? Wouldn’t that shed new light on our living?

3. The king described in Psalm 99 deserves praise and awe partly because he has “established equity . . . executed justice and righteousness.” (Psalm 99:4) Again, awe is not something reserved for the mountaintop. We are called to move ahead, mouths agape, when we perceive the possibilities of peace and justice around us.

4. Probably the cental message of the passage from II Peter is a warning about our tendency to impose our human interpretations as if all the truth of God could be contained in any person’s or group’s interpretation. (II Peter 1:15 & 20-21) We are to “be attentive to . . . a lamp shining in the dark place . . .” (vs. 19, which goes on to speak of the day dawning and the morning star rising)

5. When we are enjoying a mountaintop experience, there is a tendency to want to stay there forever, or to build memorials so we can go back and recover the experience. The disciples wanted to build dwellings to capture the glow of Jesus and Moses and Elijah. (Matthew 17:4) Jesus instead tells them to get up and move on. (vs. 7)

Lots of possibilities to think about, threads to weave into our lives. In fact, perhaps we can think of our lives as woven from threads of light. I guess I’m stretching it a little, but I believe Jesus is ever calling us to see him, ourselves, and life as full of light. He said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) He also said, “You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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