Reading Ramblings – February 15, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Transfiguration Sunday – February 15, 2015

Texts: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13 (14-18), 4:1-6; Mark 9:2-9

Context: The Transfiguration of our Lord is understandably a curious event. What purpose did it serve? Why is it that only Peter, James, and John were permitted to experience it, and why were they sworn to secrecy until after the resurrection? Questions abound. The simplest answer is to confess that we don’t have the answers to most of the questions that are raised, though we can rationalize answers that are more or less satisfying at least in part.

This event would only make sense to the disciples after the resurrection, when they were more fully understanding of the nature of Jesus’ work and his identity. Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29) and Jesus had just explained to his disciples for the first time what the Messiah’s work entailed (Mark 8:31). But Peter had refused to accept Jesus’ explanation of things (Mark 8:32). Peter, James, and John each promise to be with their master until the end (Mark 14:26-31, Mark 10:35-40), and perhaps this preview of Jesus’ glory will help each of them in coming to grips with their failure in this respect. They are not Jesus, not the Son of God incarnate, and not intended to bear everything that He must.

At the end of the day we admit that if Jesus is who we claim him to be – the incarnate Son of God – then this event, however curious, certainly is not beyond belief. May we take equal comfort that our crucified Savior is also victoriously resurrected and ascended, and coming again!

Exodus 34:29-35 – The account which Paul references in his second letter to the Corinthians. Being in the presence of God’s glory and power has a curious side effect for Moses – a glowing face. This is disconcerting to the Israelites, just as the very voice of God had terrified them (Exodus 20:18-21).

Scholars debate the nature of Moses’ shining face. Did it permanently shine, or only directly after a session in the presence of God? Some think it was a permanent alteration, that Moses’ face shined continually, and the veil was always worn as a distinctive mark of Moses’ unique role between God and the Israelites. Others think that Moses’ face only glowed after being in the presence of God, and served in part to authenticate what Moses told the Israelites. What Moses said with his face glowing behind the veil came from God himself. What Moses spoke when his face wasn’t glowing and he had no need for the veil was just Moses being Moses. The people could thus discern between divine revelation and everyday conversation or opinion.

Psalm 50:1-6 – These verses include many references to light – the sun (v.1), shining (v.2), fire (v.3), all of which seem appropriate to today’s Gospel lesson and theme, the revelation of God’s glory. God’s power is celebrated here, a power that is terrifying in and of itself, exceeding all the forces of nature over which we have no control and are reduced to fear before. Yet our God’s power comes not to destroy us but to save us through the revelation of his Son, Jesus the Messiah. In him the power of God is directed against sin and death and Satan, destroying these enemies of God’s creation and making true freedom possible through the Messiah. We need not fear any longer if we trust God’s deliverance in Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 4:1–4:6 – Paul draws on the account in Exodus 34 to show the difference between those who lived under the Law – the Mosaic covenant given through Moses at Mt. Sinai, and believers in Jesus Christ. Those who were under the law could not bear the sight of Moses’ reflection of God’s glory in his face. But we in Christ not only can bear it, we are promised that we ourselves are being transformed into a similar glory! As such, the way we choose to live our lives changes here and now, in anticipation of what we have declared to be fully already through baptism in Christ, and which we will experience in fullness in the day of our Lord’s return.

Not everyone is willing and able to accept this, however, and for them, the reflection of God’s glory needs to still be veiled. This fact demonstrates their improper relationship to God and his Son, and reveals their refusal to see reality. We do not direct people to ourselves as evidence of God’s truth, but rather to Jesus the Christ, specifically to his resurrection from the dead in human history and geography. However much we reflect our Lord’s glory, we are only imperfect reflections, not the source of the glory.

Mark 9:2-9 – Jesus takes his inner circle to reveal to them a glimpse of his divine nature. It might be tempting to see the Transfiguration as an anomaly, something out of the ordinary. It would be more accurate to see the rest of Jesus’ incarnation as the anomaly. Jesus gives up his divine glory to become human, to bind himself to creation in order to save creation. He accepts the humiliation of physical finiteness, the masking of his glory. He veils his glory much as Moses veils his reflection of God’s glory.

But in the Transfiguration the veil is pulled aside momentarily. The disciples see Jesus as He more truly is – glorious, blinding in his perfection and cleanness. I tend to side with those scholars who see Mark as crafting his Gospel as a dramatic play. It’s short on dialogue and full of action. Things happen wham-bam, one right after the other with very little exposition or explanation. The hearer/reader is supposed to make sense of what all the action means. But Mark provides pointers along the way to help the reader towards the proper interpretation.

Mark begins his Gospel with a declaration of Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Mark ends his Gospel with the declaration of the centurion that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 15:39). And here, at the middle of Mark’s play, we have the transfiguration. Jesus in glory. Jesus beyond explanation, flanked by both the embodiment of the Law, Moses, and the greatest prophetic figure, Elijah. Jesus at the center as the fulfillment of both of these ways of God’s speaking with his people. The reader/hearer is led to see in this moment – as well as in the power displayed throughout Mark’s Gospel – Jesus truly is more than just a good man, a moral example, an insightful teacher. Jesus is in fact the Son of God as claimed by none other than God the Father himself (Mark 1:11, 9:7).

Who do you see in Mark’s Gospel, at the center of teachings and healings and casting out demons? Who do you see in the man who goes willingly to his death and rises from the dead just as he predicted? Who you say He is, how you interpret Mark’s dramatic Gospel, is the difference between veiling the mind to God’s love, or basking in the light of his grace.

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