Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Transfiguring Turn

Our texts this week are 2 Kings 2:1-14, Psalm 50:1-6, and Mark 9:2-9, which can be read here.

The attentive reader of Mark’s gospel could experience déjà vu this week. In one sense, Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain is unlike anything we have seen thus far…I mean, glowing like he’s been bleached bright? Chatting up Moses and Elijah, two long-gone heroes of the faith? This is a whole new ballgame that Peter, John, and James are privileged to witness. Yet the voice they hear…the voice strikes us as familiar, both in its timbre and its content. “This is my beloved son,” the voice speaks from the cloud, repeating the very words spoken over Jesus at his baptism. Here is another defining moment where Jesus is learning his identity and his identity is being revealed to others.

But then the speech takes on new content. The second thing spoken over Jesus at his baptism had been directed to his ears alone: “With you I am well pleased.” But the second thing spoken over Jesus now is directed to the disciples: “Listen to him!” is the cry. We must pay attention to this change in the message, to this new instruction. Why in this moment must his core of disciples be instructed in such a dramatic way about who Jesus is, and reminded so vehemently to listen to him?

This story takes place at a hinge point in Mark’s gospel and Jesus’ ministry. To this point, he has been a healer, a teacher of parables, a preacher, a miracle worker of great power. Now, however, Jesus is no longer going to display power in such a traditional, crowd-pleasing way. Only one more healing will take place in Mark’s gospel; there will be more teaching, but the content of the teaching will be heavier—about suffering, about days of trial to come. Jesus has just told them about his impending death for the first time, and he will repeat this prediction twice more in the next two chapters over the cacophony of the disciples’ disbelieving cries. This ministry of Jesus is about to take a sharp turn—a turn from power to weakness, from glory to suffering. Yet in all this, the disciples are told to do one thing: “Listen to him.”

The transfiguration is a perplexing story to me in so many ways, but it comes at a hinge in our church year—on the Sunday where we move from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to its end (not until summer will we return to fill in the gaps in the middle), from the brightness of Epiphany season to the more difficult pilgrimage called the season of Lent. Jesus will be leaving the seashores of Galilee behind and travelling a long road to Jerusalem and all its voices of condemnation. Amidst all this transition, will we listen to him? Will we continue to believe who he is, even when he looks nothing like what we’ve grown to expect?

No comments: