bible blog 1197

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


Michelle Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet

Matthew 17:1-13

New English Translation (NET)

The Transfiguration

17 Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them privately up a high mountain. And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Then Moses and Elijah also appeared before them, talking with him. So Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they were overwhelmed with fear and threw themselves down with their faces to the ground. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Do not be afraid.” When they looked up, all they saw was Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Do not tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the experts in the law say that Elijah must come first?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does indeed come first and will restore all things. 12 And I tell you that Elijah has already come. Yet they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist

"Comic Book" Icon of Transfiguration

“Comic Book” Icon of Transfiguration

Did Matthew see this event as the (partial) fulfilment of Jesus’ promise, noted at the end of chapter 16, that some of his disciples would not “taste death before they saw the Son of Man come in the kingdom” ? In this account Jesus linked  his transfiguration with his forthcoming resurrection, which might be seen as the complete fulfilment of the prophecy. If so, that would indicate a great transformation of the so-called apocalyptic tradition of the “Son of Man”, which envisaged one coming on the clouds of heaven to bring justice to the earth. All the gospel writers. in their different ways, depict the Jesus himself as the expected cosmic revelation. That’s a quite a change, for whatever language may be used of Jesus, nothing in his life, death and resurrection looks very cosmic or compels anyone to submit to his power. The decisive revelation of God’s goodness happens publicly but modestly. God has chosen, as Paul says, the “small things of the world, mere nothings, to overturn the powers that be.”

Matthew’s picture of the Transfiguration, which is drawn mainly from Mark’s gospel, emphasises the comic ineptitude of the great disciples faced with this revelation. He makes some changes in Mark’ description, adding the detail that Jesus’ face shone like the sun. He already recorded Jesus’ promise that righteous would shine like the sun in the kingdom of heaven; here it happens. The same image is found in Chapter 1 of The Revelation where the face of the Risen Christ, “shines like the sun in full strength.” The identification of Jesu with the sun as the source of life is not accidental.I once asked a class of primary school children how the disciples knew that it was Moses and Elijah who were with Jesus. A child replied as if it was obvious, “Names on the backs of the shirts, like Beckham.” That comic book vividness is quite appropriate to this story, in which Peter wants to treat it all as a kind of special version of the Jewish festival of booths, which remembered the days of Israel’s honeymoon with God in the wilderness.  

Listen to what he says

Listen to what he says

The voice of God is crucial. It says, “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am delighted. Listen to him.” So where did the NET version get its “one dear Son”? I have no idea. This is an instance of how careless translation can alter whole theologies. The New Testament often refers to Jesus as “only begotten” son, that is, as God’s child in a unique sense, but never to my knowledge as the “one dear son.” The true Christian gospel is that in Jesus the beloved son, all human beings may become sons and daughters of God, if they simply listen to him, that is, if they become his disciples.

The issue of the non-appearance of Elijah may have arisen during Jesus’ ministry, in the form, “If you are the Messiah, why has the prophet Elijah not appeared to prepare the way for you, as prophesied?” Jesus’ answer may have been, “But he has done so; his name was John the Baptist.” Jesus’ deduction from this sequence of events is a sober one, “The Son of Man will also suffer at their hands.” The revelation of Jesus’ true identity must be cherished in silence until he has confirmed it by his death and God has confirmed it by his resurrection.

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