February 26, 2006 - Year B - Epiphany Last - Transfiguration
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain. There his appearance was changed before their eyes. 3 Even his clothes shone, becoming as white as no bleach of this world could make them. 4 Elijah and Moses appeared to them; the two were talking with Jesus.
5 Then Peter spoke and said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say; they were overcome with awe. 7 But a cloud formed, covering them in a shadow, and from the cloud came this word, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, as they looked around, they no longer saw anyone except Jesus with them.
9 As they came down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man be risen from the dead. 10 So they kept this to themselves, although they discussed with one another what ‘to rise from the dead’ could mean.
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• 9.1 The transfiguration of Jesus is the midpoint of Mark’s Gospel.
This manifestation is in fact one of the most important in the New Testament. In the liturgy of oriental Churches, the feast of the Transfiguration holds a place of supreme importance.
Though not the summit, it is in fact the summary of all revelation. Moses and Elijah, the spokesmen of the Law and the Prophets (in a word, of all the Old Testament) present the Christ of the Gospel to the apostles Peter, James and John, those who will be responsible for the preaching of the Gospel.
As Moses and Elijah were led by God to the Holy Mountain, to witness his glory (Ex 33:18; 1 K 19:9), so the apostles are led apart by Jesus; they too climb the mountain and there Jesus manifests his glory to them.
Jesus had just announced his passion and his death: the day had come when the Father confirmed his end that was very near (Lk 9:31) and gave him a foretaste of his resurrection. Moses and Elijah were the witnesses, they who, in a certain way, escaped the corruption of death (Dt 34:6; 2 K 2:11).
A cloud formed covering them in a shadow. The cloud mentioned here is that which, in several episodes of the Bible, both indicates and hides the mysterious presence of God (Ex 19 and 1 K 8:10).
Listen to him! (v. 7). The apostles have been accompanying Jesus for more than a year, with misunderstanding increasing between him and
the religious authorities of the people of God. For them a question could arise: Is not Jesus mistaken? Are not the certitudes of God’s people on the side of the priests and scribes?
The Father himself intervenes, just as he had done in the past for John the Baptist: Listen to him! “Listen to him for he is the Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14; Heb 1:1). He is the Prophet, and all the others speak only for him (Dt 18:17).
When Jesus worked miracles for the sick, and over the forces of nature, he showed that the present order of the world is not permanent. Now the curtains are partially opened: would that the apostles understood that the Son of Man, as Jesus calls himself, is close to his resurrection. In a little while his fellow citizens will hang him on a cross. In a little while, too, the Father will give him the Glory that awaits him. The shining cloud, the dazzling white clothes are external signs that indicate something of the mystery of Jesus: the day he rises from among the dead, his human nature will be transformed and extended by divine Energies, so that he may fill everything in everyone.
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1. "Kurt Vonnegut (that great accidental theologian) considers this ritual paradox in his book Slaughterhouse Five. A Character (an alien form Tralfamador, actually) is considering what caused Christianity to go wrong. That it has gone wrong is clear enough: Any time a religion of love willingly tortures heretics, something has gone wrong. The problem, it turns out, is that Christianity has misunderstood the ritual paradox set up by the juxtaposition of the Transfiguration and Good Friday. As Christians have read things, the point of Good Friday is that Pontius Pilate tortured Jesus to death because he thought he was a nobody. Crucifixion, after all, was reserved for nobodies. The point of Easter, Christians have concluded, is that Pilate was wrong. Jesus was not a nobody; he was the ultimate SOMEBODY, and thus Pilate was in real trouble. The deadly part comes, says the character, when Christians draw the conclusion that people should strive to never crucify a SOMEBODY. The corollary, however, was the problem. If you cannot crucify SOMEBODIES, you CAN crucify nobodies. You'd just better be sure that you actually have a nobody on your hands before you nail him up. Thus was laid the basis for the Crusades and the Inquisition. Vonnegut's character argues that the real point of the Christian ritual journey is that Jesus was actually a nobody. The point of Easter, then, is that God raises Jesus from the dead in order to say that in God's creation you can't crucify nobodies." [Provoking the Gospel of Mark by Richard W. Swanson]
2. Two comments regarding Peter in The Insurrection of the Crucified by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.
"That Peter is to accompany Jesus is interesting from another point of view as well. For when last seen Peter was being called Satan and was being exorcised by Jesus. But now Peter is taken by Jesus to the place of manifestation. The apocalyptic fury of Jesus by no means seeks to annihilate Peter but aims at curing his blindness. In other words, however much both he and we have fallen into blindness and superstition and betrayal, both he and we are still summoned into vision and loyalty and solidarity with Jesus. The ferocity of Jesus is the ferocity of a relentless grace. . . ."
"Peter's suggestion that the disciples should build booths or shelters is odd both for its content and it placement. It would seem to follow more naturally from verse 8 than from verse 4. Its placement here serves to emphasize Peter's desire to stay at the mountain, with his head in the clouds, and so carries forward the theme of the latent triumphalism of Peter's faith. The suggestion that they build shelters is a reference to the Festival of the Booths by which Israel celebrates annually the time of nomadic existence in the wilderness. It thus recalls the themes of exodus and wilderness, which play such an important role in this narrative. But it also suggests a 'religionizing' of faith whereby a cultic act serves both to highlight and to contain an important event, preventing it from contaminating everyday or profane existence. . . . ."
What response have you had in the last couple of days that shields our everyday experience from relentless grace? How might that be different next time?
3. We have here a double doubling of events, a great storytelling technique. Both the baptismal and resurrectional scenes doubles -- one after and one in anticipation. Here in the middle of Mark we find a hearkening backward and a leaning forward.
Consider this day to be near the middle of your life. What scene would hearken back to your beginning your journey of faithfulness toward relentless grace and further anticipate your vision of a preferred future?
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