The transfiguration of JesusBottom Highlights, Where's the Faith? Thursday, March 24th, 2016
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!
I love how God speaks to us through the compiled ancient manuscripts that make up the Bible. It is filled with creative artists and wonderful storytellers. The Apostle Mark is one of them where he describes the transfiguration of Jesus.
This story is also found in the Torah (Exodus 24) – and every devout person of the Jewish faith would be familiar with it. The parallel between this story, and what Mark is telling in the Gospel is amazing. It almost feels like Mark is re-telling this familiar story, but is modernizing it by changing the characters to people a bit closer to where Mark and his community could relate to better. Let’s take a closer look at these amazing parallels.
Mark is retelling the story of Moses, someone who heard the voice of God and said “Yes” to leading the people out of slavery; someone who journeyed up a mountain and entering into the divine presence of God, and allowing himself to be so changed that even the world around him changes as well.
In Exodus, the covenant between God and God’s people is reaffirmed. The children of Israel are the children of God. For Mark, Jesus is affirmed as God’s beloved child, and so, any followers of Jesus are also affirmed as God’s beloved children. Parallels? The relational covenant between God and humanity is affirmed in both stories.
The cloud of God’s presence lasts six days in Moses’ story, and Jesus encounters the cloud of God’s presence.
Moses takes companions on his spiritual quest, and Jesus takes companions on his. Parallel? Spirituality is most powerful as a shared, communal experience. Being a part of a spiritual community is powerful!
Moses builds an altar. Peter wants to build a shrine. I like how Rev. Durrell Watkins says, “Peter doesn’t really know what to do or what to say, but knows he’s experiencing something holy and he wants to acknowledge that in some way.”
Now, Peter’s shrine isn’t an altar, but rather a tent, something meant to house or contain the experience. It’s like he wants to freeze time and capture the moment and not move beyond that experience; and that’s a mistake. Mark even says that Peter doesn’t know what to say because he was so terrified. Parallels? We can’t contain the experience – it’s not about living in the past – re-living a wonderful and life-changing experience. It’s about continuing to daily experience the wonderful, life-changing presence of God.
Moses’ companions see divine light as a consuming fire. Jesus’ companions see Jesus transfigured into a being of light. In both situations, divinity is described not as things, but as light; light can’t be touched or molded, but even though it isn’t a thing, it can be powerfully experienced and one is better for experiencing it.
Now, Mark records people from history showing up – Elijah and Moses. And the added characters probably represent something to his community he’s writing to.
Most theologians agree that Moses represents law, but Jesus has shown a tendency to be a liberal interpreter of religious law. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that religion is made for us; we were not made for religion. So, rather than being bound by ancient traditions, Jesus suggests that we should use our own creativity and intelligence to apply inherited religion in new, affirming and life-giving ways. Moses may have been the law-giver, but Jesus is the law interpreter, and his interpretation is always on the side of helping people live with joy.
Elijah represents the prophetic tradition. But the prophets aren’t just in the past; Jesus shows that a prophetic ministry of challenging injustice is still needed, and we are still called to work for peace and justice for all people.
A prophecy suggested that Elijah would one day return. Mark imagines that Elijah has returned in spirit on this occasion. Not to fix things, but to recognize the prophetic work that still needed to be done, according to some theologians.
Mark adds something else not found in Exodus 24. He records God saying, “This is my chosen one, listen to him.” Mark is saying that there is wisdom beyond the ancient texts. Wisdom is beyond dogmas and creeds. Religion isn’t a monument to history; it’s a tool for living in the present.
It’s like he’s saying, “You’ve read Moses. You’ve read Elijah. Now listen to Jesus.” And to Mark. And to Peter. And to Thomas. And to Mary Magdalene. And to the Samaritan woman.
Listen for the voice of God in many places, in the arts, in nature, in poetry, in your own thoughts, in the outcry of the oppressed, in the painful moaning of those who suffer. Listen for the voice of God where you actually live today. Listen to the divine voice urging you to share hope and compassion and healing in the world.
And then we read, “Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” When they heard the voice of God they no longer saw Moses and Elijah. They were just with themselves, and Jesus, and the present moment.
No more worshiping the past. It’s time to fully live in the present and make a difference in the here and now. God is still speaking.
What a great reminder to remember that we are the beloved children of God, just as we are, we have sacred value. And as the children of God, we have work to do to bring hope and healing to our world. Bringing people closer to God and one another.
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