This Tuesday, we are gathering to discuss the Transfiguration found in Mark 9:2-13, Matthew 17:1-13, and Luke 9:28-36. We will focus on Mark’s version that we previously discussed in our study of his gospel. As we sing in verse 4 of our hymn: “Manifest on mountain height/ shining in resplendent light/ where disciples filled with awe/ thy transfigured glory saw./ When from there thou leddest them/ steadfast to Jerusalem”
The Transfiguration is the most distinctive and dramatic showing of Jesus’ divinity. However, the Transfiguration is more than simply an isolated story of the manifestation of Jesus’s divinity. It is the transformative story within the larger gospel narrative in revealing Jesus’ identity. The Transfiguration is the chrysalis moment in the gospels.
The Gospel Narrative:
If you remember back to our study of Robert Capon’s book Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment, the Synoptic Gospels are generally divided into two major parts with a transition section. The first part is Jesus in his native area of Galilee. Here we see Jesus as an itinerant miracle worker who heals the sick, casts out demons, and preaches the kingdom of God to the poor and the outcasts.
The last part of the gospel story is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday culminating in the Passion and Resurrection. Here we see Jesus overturning tables, cursing fig trees, and speaking of God’s apocalyptic judgment. Here Jesus is the sacrificial Passover lamb who defeats death in his Resurrection.
The transitional part is Mark 8:22 – 10:52. This section begins with the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida and ends with the healing of blind Bartimaeus. It is in this section that Jesus opens the eyes of his disciples as to his true identity. The Transfiguration is the heart of the disclosure of this transition of Jesus from an itinerant Galilean preacher to the crucified God.
Mark places the Transfiguration in this transition section immediately after Peter’s Confession that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus then discloses to his disciples that, as the Christ, he must go to Jerusalem, be killed by the religious leaders, and rise again. Peter then denies that Jesus must die, and Jesus rebukes Peter’s denial. Mark 8:27-38. The Transfiguration takes place immediately after this dialogue. Within this placement, the Transfiguration affirms Peter’s confession and affirms Jesus’s rebuke.
The Greek word used by Mark (and Matthew) for “transfigure” is metemorphothe. This is the verb form of the noun metamorphosis. In a metamorphosis, an animal changes its form and its purpose such as from a tadpole to a frog or a caterpillar to a butterfly. Therefore, the Transfiguration shows us Jesus’ metamorphosis from an itinerant preacher and healer in Galilee into the fullness of his purpose and being as the Messianic Son of God to be crucified in Jerusalem as the ransom for many. In Peter’s Confession and Jesus’ teaching on his death, Jesus verbally changes the nature of who he is. In the Transfiguration we have the physical metamorphic manifestation of this change.
The story of the Transfiguration is always read on the last Sunday before Lent. (Year A is Matthew, Year B is Mark, Year C is Luke.) Within the liturgical year, this reading reflects the same change as it does in the Gospel story. Beginning on December 25, the liturgical focus has been on our celebrating the Incarnate God’s coming to dwell among us – the Nativity, Wise Men, Baptism, Call of the Disciples, etc. After Transfiguration Sunday, the liturgy transitions as we enter Lent and begin our own journey towards Jerusalem and the Cross.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is Blackened Shrimp Bowls. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8. Hope to see you here!
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transfigured into the same image from one degree of glory to another.2 Corinthians 3:17-18.