Listen - Reflections 2-29-20

Texts for Sunday February 23
Transfiguration of Our Lord

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

The story of Jesus’ Transfiguration was chosen by those who planned the lectionary to be the final gospel for the season of Epiphany. Since the day of Epiphany, when, through the visit of the Magi, it was revealed that Jesus is the light of all the nations not just Israel, we have heard stories that reveal, or manifest, ways that God is present here in the flesh, like healing or teaching. 

The very first Sunday after the Epiphany tells the story of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. The heavens are opened, the Holy Spirit descends onto Jesus as a dove, and a voice says This is my beloved son and I am pleased with him.

In this week’s final story of the Epiphany season, the voice repeats itself in the midst of a grand vision on top of a high mountain. First, Jesus is joined by Moses (whose encounter in a cloud on a mountain resulted in the 10 commandments) and Elijah (who is famous as an early prophet who “entered heaven alive” via a fiery chariot). Then the voice pronounces Jesus the beloved and adds a directive: Listen to him. The disciples end up cowering on the ground in fear. The event seems a bit random and weird without context.

So, according to Matthew, six days before Jesus, Peter, James, and John head up the mountain, Jesus had a conversation with his disciples about his identity (Peter won a gold star because he “gets it right”, calling Jesus “the Messiah”). Then Jesus told them how he was heading to Jerusalem to get arrested, beaten, crucified, and killed (Peter got a demerit because he emphatically rejected Jesus’ plan). Jesus tells them that this path toward loss is the path they follow if they wish to follow him – whoever loses their life will in fact find it.  It is at that point the foursome heads up the mountain.

The transfiguration story, then, stands as the midpoint between Jesus teaching and healing ministry, and his determined march toward Jerusalem and death. For the season of Epiphany, that “midpoint” is the final official Epiphany manifestation. 

Three points to think about: 
1) What does the added directive from the voice say? Listen to him. The disciples, especially Peter, need to hear what Jesus says about the coming stretch of his ministry and not what they tell themselves about the messiah. Jesus told you that he would undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matt. 16:21) You also need to hear that to follow Jesus is to take up your cross and lose your life.

2) While the Transfiguration “ends” the Epiphany season, it also opens the way for the Lenten season. We are on the other side of that midpoint and what we find there, in the words of a later apostle (Paul), is that God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25) God is present here in the flesh, manifested now in weakness.

3) Like the season of Epiphany, which is “bookended” by the baptism of Jesus and Transfiguration, Lent is bookended by the Transfiguration and the Resurrection. 
What does that mean?

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245