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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before February 15, 2015


Mark 9:2-10

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

What I Am Learning:

Jesus took Peter, James and John and goes to a high mountain. There his clothes begin to shine as he was transfigured before them.

Moses shined too, after spending many days on Mt. Sinai in the presence of God as God gave the great teaching of the Torah. So Jesus is like Moses, only instead of giving the law on stone tablets, his very life is the great teaching. Elijah saw a fire on the side of the mountain, along with an earthquake and a deep still silence as God passed by. So Jesus is like Elijah, the greatest of the prophets who told the truth to his whole nation despite the danger to himself.

So Elijah and Moses appeared to Jesus and were talking with him. In this, Jesus is now the inheritor of both Elijah and Moses. He represents the Law and the Prophets embodied in one person.

After the cloud comes and washes away Peter’s fearful and overwhelmed imagination, a voice says “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.

In Mark, Jesus is the only one to hear God’s voice at his baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved with you I am well pleased.” On the day of transfiguration, Peter, James and John hear the voice, with a shorter version of this same quote.

This quote is not just about how God “likes” Jesus. It is a mashup of two passages of the Hebrew Scripture. The first is from Psalm 2 which is a coronation Psalm – used when a new king was anointed. This verse names Jesus the Messiah (messiah means “anointed one”). The second tells us how Jesus is going to live out being the Messiah. It is a quote from Isaiah 42 in which Isaiah envisions that the way out of Babylon was going to be through nonviolent, public resistance to the Babylonians.

Now the disciples hear the voice. To people in the first century, and who knew the Hebrew Scripture better than we know Harry Potter, this was an obvious and power statement:

Jesus is the Messiah. He will do what they expect a messiah to do: to free the People of Israel from Roman Occupation so that they could be a blessing to all nations.

Jesus is seeking to bring God’s kingdom to the earth and to every part of human society:

God’s Way of Mutuality (the kingdom of God) is God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.

But he is a revolutionary Messiah. Instead of raising an army to kill the Romans, he is going to free people to follow their calling in the midst of Roman occupation so that even the Romans would be changed. Jesus would engage in nonviolent public resistance to the Roman way, freeing people to live as God’s people so that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus as the Messiah seeks to bring God’s kingdom, what I like to call God’s way of Mutuality, to the earth. But he wanted to do it in accordance with what Martin Luther called a theology of the cross:

Because the earth is beautiful with its species, people and cultures yet broken with injustice and violence, God suffers with and for the earth and its peoples and brings new life and new ways of living together as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Then comes the most significant part of the passage: “Listen to him.”

Listen to him instead of what?

I think it likely that they were to listen to him rather than their expectations of the Messiah and how the Messiah was to do his work.

How was Jesus going to make the great changes that were needed in his time? What kind of power would he use?

Human beings are tempted always to think that that coercive power, power over others is necessary to change things. And if it is necessary to use coercive power to change a situation from bad to good, then coercive power is itself a good thing

The problem with coercive power, power over others, is that it is ultimately self-defeating as it creates enemies who fear they will be destroyed by it. This creates a cycle of ever-expanding violence.

Jesus was trying to change things by using power-with others. Not only that, but in the transfiguration the voice of God asks us to listen to Jesus – that is when we see Jesus we see God.

Today we learned that a young woman named Kayla Mueller was killed by ISIS after being long-held captive by them. ISIS had the power to kill her. Their very notion of God is that God commands them to kill their enemies, how God commands them to make change in the world.

But she had a very different notion of God and of how God uses God’s power to change things:

“I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you.”

She understood the transfiguring message of Jesus: Yes there are many things that need change in the world. There are many injustices that wreck destruction on human beings. The way God works is to suffer with and for those who experience injustice so that they can find their own power-with-others to change the world. Jesus could easily have joined with the Zealots and started a war. He rejected that way to bring change.

It may be necessary for the nations of the world to use military force against ISIS, now that things have gotten to this point. But the cauldron of injustice that led to ISIS could more cheaply and more effectively headed off at the pass with a peaceful army of Kayla Mueller’s instead of lots of bombs. Most of the time people want to live in peace. When people’s basic needs are met, they have the dignity of being respected and hope for their future they will reject violence. But when we let injustice fester in any part of our world we create the breeding ground for violence.

If I had to take a bet on who will be more powerful, ISIS or Kayla Mueller, I will bet on Kayla Mueller every time. If I had to bet on military intervention against ISIS or Kayla Mueller, I will bet on Kayla Mueller every time.

I will bet on Kayla because I believe that Jesus Christ embodies how God works in the world. I believe that coercive power, the way of death, does not have the last word. I believe that God is bringing all things to wholeness and healing.

May we all be transformed into the way of Jesus, in a world that needs much change. May we be transfigured with Jesus, and by him.