The gospel reading for this coming Sunday is Luke’s version of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Three things are striking me about this text this week:
- the vision is so effulgent and glorious one might think that it would be an appropriate closing scene of a Hollywood movie. I noticed that all the Synoptic writers describe the Transfiguration in far more dazzling terms than the Resurrection appearances. One would think that it would be the Resurrection that would be described so gloriously. Interesting, too, that the Transfiguration doesn’t come at the end of the story but just short of the middle (at least in Luke). So, why all the blazing glory in the middle of the story, and not at the end?
- the vision doesn’t change the disciples. In the movies, like “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” (dating myself, I know) such an encounter changes minds if not lives. But not so with Peter, James and John. In verse 46, the disciples get into an argument over who’s the greatest of them. In verse 49 the disciples try to stop someone from casting out demons because he wasn’t following them. In verse 54 James & John offer to call down lightning to fry some unwelcoming Samaritans. Sounds pretty petty and self-centered to me! How could someone see such heavenly glory, and still have their minds stuck in the earth?
- the point of the whole Transfiguration story is not mountain top experiences, or going down into the valley to serve. Nor is it about Peter’s denseness. The point is the center of the story, in which the Father speaks: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him.” OK – but what does it mean to listen to Jesus? Some possibilities:
- do what he says;
- make like Mary and sit at his feet while Martha does all the work;
- open the Bible and actually read his Word.
One last thought about all this that’s been sneaking around my mind. It’s clear to me that the point of the Transfiguration is the command to listen to Jesus, not the gaga sights & sounds. Yet if that’s the point, why the gaga sights and sounds? Jesus could have just levitated a foot off the ground and said “Listen to me” – but instead, he took them up the mountain for this mystical, visual experience. Seems it takes more than just words to get us to listen.
For this and more, tune in this Sunday at 8:00 or 10:15, St. Paul’s UCC, Freeburg IL. But don’t listen to me. Listen to Jesus.