17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
What I am Learning:
Mountains are thin places where we are out of our comfort zone enough to see God shine. And they see God shine in Jesus whose face shone like Moses’ face shone after he was given the Torah. They see Elijah and Moses there. Peter, a leader of the disciples, suggests that they make three tents for these three. Perhaps he wants to hold on to them. Perhaps he is just wanting to be hospitable.
Moses and Elijah together personified the two key parts of Hebrew faith:
- Moses who gave instruction for how to live together outside of dominiation/submission culture
- Elijah who embodied the self-critique of the Hebrew people when they drank the wine of empire
Both of them experienced, on behalf of the People of Israel, God’s presence on a mountain. Moses went up the mountain to receive the Torah – the teaching of God about neighbor love. (Exodus 34: 24-34) Elijah went up the mountain after his conflict with Ahab and Jezebel tired the poor guy out. There he experienced a wind, an earthquake and then a still small voice. (1 Kings 19)
I think that the key to Peter’s suggestion is that Jesus, Moses and Elijah are equals: each of them will have equal billing on the mountain.
As he proposes this, a cloud comes over the mountain and once again Jesus’ identity is proclaimed by the voice of God. Only this time it is not spoken to Jesus, but to the three disciples: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Once again, the first part of this is from Psalm 2, the coronation Psalm of the People of Israel. The king is God’s son, carries the honor of God and the expectation to establish justice for the poor, orphan, widow and immigrant. The second part of this quote is from Isaiah 42, the suffering servant who through nonviolent resistance frees Israel from the land of Babylon.
Then God says: listen to him!
The disciples fall on their faces both in worship and abject terror. Jesus comes and touches them and says “do not fear.”
And Moses and Elijah are gone.
Jesus, according to the Jewish Matthew writing to a Jewish community, embodies both Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets. More than that he is now the new Moses and the new Elijah, the one to be listened to.
The word “listen” here means more than to simply hear. It means to obey or to heed. It is now the words and life of Jesus that call us to live in mutuality and tells us the truth when we fail to live that way.
Now if we left it here, we might very well suffer from the mistaken impression that Jesus is now an authoritarian figure, a Bruce Almighty strutting down the street, just another Augustus Caesar with an different name.
But when Jesus goes down the hill, heals a person, and tells them he will not use violence to overcome the Roman Empire. He won’t use the tools of Empire to destroy empire because that kind of change is not the deep change God is bringing to the world.
Jesus will take on the Empire in Jerusalem, but not just the Roman Empire, but the very notion of empire: that to be human is to be powerful over others.
In this Jesus does not have a death-wish, but a life-wish so deep he could risk his life for the life of the world.
Instead Jesus will expose the lie of empire and proclaim the truth of God that the only true power is power with others and to risk ourselves so that we and others may be more authentic to the image of God in us. He was willing to die to remain authentic to himself and the God who named him beloved.
This is why, in the narrative of Matthew, that we are commanded by God to listen, heed, and obey Jesus.
We are beloved. You are beloved. Beloved of a God who seeks to free us for our authentic life, building power with each other to create a culture of mutuality in the midst of our empire. If we risk, we risk not out of a death-wish, but a life-wish that sees our life connected to the rest of life on this planet.
To help us discover our authentic beloved self we encourage a daily spiritual practice. During Lent this year, we will be encouraging every participant in TCC to spend time practicing a new spiritual discipline – to try it on for a while. These can be found on either the Participant’s Page or now on the Learn More page of our web site.
Please join us in creating some space in your life for discovering more deeply your authentic, baptized self. Take some time so that God may encounter you in a thin space, so that God may encounter you as God's beloved.