Open English Bible » Read //
This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
MATTHEW 17: 1-21
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, and the brothers James and John, and led them up a high mountain alone. 2 There his appearance was transformed before their eyes; his face shown like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 All at once Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. 4 “Master,” exclaimed Peter, interposing, “it is good to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and there was a voice from the cloud that said — “This is my dearly loved son, who brings me great joy; listen to him.” 6 The disciples, on hearing this, fell on their faces, greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying as he did so: “Rise up, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they raised their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were going down the mountain side, Jesus gave them this warning — “Do not speak of this vision to anyone, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” 10 “How is it,” his disciples asked, “that our teachers of the Law say that Elijah has to come first?”
11 “Elijah indeed does come,” Jesus replied, “and will restore everything; 12 and I tell you that Elijah has already come, and people have not recognized him, but have treated him just as they pleased. In the same way, too, the Son of Man is destined to undergo suffering at people’s hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that it was of John the Baptist that he had spoken to them.
14 When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, and, kneeling down before him, said: 15 “Master, take pity on my son, for he is epileptic and suffers terribly; indeed, he often falls into the fire and into the water; 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
17 “Faithless and perverse generation!” Jesus exclaimed, “how long must I be among you? How long must I have patience with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy; and he was cured from that very hour. 19 Afterward the disciples came up to Jesus, and asked him privately: “Why was it that we could not drive it out?”
20 “Because you have so little faith,” he answered; “for, I tell you, if your faith were only like a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain ‘Move from this place to that!’ and it would be moved; and nothing would be impossible to you.”
This excellent translation is from the Open English Bible, which anyone can find on the web. It is an ongoing revision of a splendid transaltion which was unknown to me, “The 20th Century New Testament” published before the first war. In fact, as large chunks of the Open Bible are simply identical with its predecssor, “revision” may be claiming a little too much.
I have dealt with this passage many times in my blog. Interested readers can find previous efforts simply by searching for: emmock.com /transfiguration of Jesus
Obviously- at least to me- this is no an historical event, but it is one of a sequence of hilltop stories in Matthew which disclose Jesus’ authority as the beloved son of God. Jesus is perceived by the disciples in the radiance of God’s glory. Paul speaks of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus; and the book of The Revelation chapter 1 has Jesus appearing to the prophet with his face shining like the sun in full strength. Moses in his encounters with God and Elijah in his departure from the world are also linked to the fire of God’s glory. We should not read these narratives as accounts of mystical experience but rather as storytelling devices that imaginatively embody quite precise theological claims. In this case, Matthew, following Mark chapter 9, wants to show:
1. Jesus shares God’s glory in anticipation of his resurrection.
2. Jesus fulfils the roles of Lawgiver and Prophet (Moses and Elijah) in the story of Israel
3. Discipleship is not a matter of visions but of listening and obeying Jesus
4. John the Baptist was seen by the author (and Jesus?) as Elijah returned to announce God’s rule in the world.
Rafael is his painting of the transfiguration shows the light of God’s glory spilling from the mountain on to the face of the epileptic boy. The glory of God in the face of Jesus is not a private vision but for those able to see, a public demonstration. Faith is not believing three impossible things before breakfast, but being committed to expelling evil from human lives. Evil is not the illness itself but the communal fatalism that accepts illness as God-given and unchallengeable. Modern scientific medicine owes much to this strand of the Christian gospel.
It may be that in UK society churches will have to teach the holiness of healing: that it is a gift shared and not a commodity purchased. There is a prevailing market idolatry which believes that everything is better when it can be sold; and that people find their true nature as consumers. On the contrary I believe that there is no greater vocation for society than providing good medical care for all its citizens free of charge. How we achieve that may differ over time but its provision is the chief good of politics.