Sunday, March 04, 2007

Listen to Jesus

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter 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.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen. -- Luke 9:28b-36

Jesus takes Peter, James and John along as he goes up onto a mountain to pray. We are not told why only this inner circle is present. But as Jesus prays, his appearance changes. Luke highlights two details: the changing of his face and of his garments. Jesus is the bearer of a new order and more.

The presence of Elijah and Moses suggests two great periods of Israel's history, the exodus and the end-time hope of deliverance.

These great figures discuss the coming fulfillment of the "exodus" in Jerusalem, an allusion to Jesus' death and journey to heaven. He will be gone awhile to return, though the stress is on the journey's launching, his death. The juxtaposition of exodus imagery and his glorious countenance suggests the imagery's broad sweep. Of course the disciples do not grasp this discussion's significance at the time, since they struggle with Jesus' predictions of his death later when they approach Jerusalem.

The disciples are trying to come to grips with what is happening. In their view Jesus is another great figure, like Moses and Elijah. He will found a people like Moses and sustain them through hope like Elijah. So Peter suggests they should build three booths in honor of Jesus and his colleagues. The suggestion is eminently reasonable, except that it understates Jesus' relationship to his two witnesses. Peter wants to enjoy the moment and prolong it in celebration. He wants to stay on the mountaintop for as long as possible.

But Luke makes it clear that Peter has spoken because he did not know what he was saying. The voice from heaven explains: they need to listen to Jesus so they will understand his uniqueness, call and destiny to suffer. Also, their role is not merely to contemplate Jesus but to serve him. Celebration awaits in the future, but now is a time for instruction, response and action.

The voice from heaven speaks before Jesus responds. With the voice came the cloud that envelops them and leaves them fearful. The disciples must listen to this Jesus. Their tendency is to assume they know who Jesus is and what he is about, but as his instruction shows, there are some surprises coming. He is greater than his extremely illustrious witnesses. The disciples need to sit at his feet and learn.

Instantly everything returns to normal. The disciples are so overwhelmed that they remain silent about this event for years. The transfiguration called the disciples to listen to Jesus.

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