Not a word that we use that often is it?! In the Lectionary Cycle, “Transfiguration Sunday” is the last Sunday before the start of Lent. It wraps up the Epiphany Season of “Light and revelation” with this spectacle of Jesus on a mountaintop, glowing brighter than bleach (not flippant, but a reasonable translation of the Greek,honestly!) (Read Mark 9:2-10: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Mark+9:2-10&vnum=yes&version=nrsv )
Back in the day, my New Testament professor bluntly proclaimed to us aspiring preachers of Good News, “Have at this one. It didn’t happen, y’know.” In all likelihood, the events as Mark describes them probably didn’t. When you start looking carefully at this text, filled as it is with tiny clues only Poirot could decipher, you can see allusions to the books of Daniel, 2 Kings, Deuteronomy, Malachi, and more. To original hearers/readers of the Markan text, many would have seen/heard the echoes/shadows of other ‘theophanies’ – manifestations of the holy in the ordinary world, and particularly that of Elijah’s fireball bright entry to heaven in 2 Kings 2. So we have to ask, “What was Mark up to?”
In a nutshell, Mark is telling us – again – that Jesus Christ is Son of God (Mark 1:1), or put another way, Jesus is an anointed one of God, a “messiah”, and that what he proclaimed is nothing less than the dream of God, here and now. After telling this mountaintop story where earth and heaven touch in conversation, Mark drags us unwillingly down the mountain, down the painful pathway to betrayal, trial and brutal execution. But before we get there, Mark wants us to understand that while Jesus of Nazareth was one among thousands who were victim to this excruciating penalty for crossing swords or words with the Roman empire, he is much is more than ‘one among many’, according to Mark. His way of walking his talk, to death and beyond if necessary, was unique, and Mark needs his readers to ‘get it’ that Jesus has God’s blessing for his message and his ‘way of life’. In Mark’s words “Jesus, the Messiah, child of God.”
And his way of showing us that is in this tale of ‘transfiguration’ – a long latinate word which means the complete transformation from an ordinary to a more beautiful state. You could read Mark 9: 1-16 and paraphrase it (VERY loosely!) as Mark saying to us, “You may think this Nazarene rabbi, all ratty hair, worn sandals, and calloused hands, is ordinary, or if not ordinary, just vaguely special. Well let me show you what God thinks of him…,tada!! …….Transfigured. See him for a moment in this dazzling state and realize who he is. Wonder-full.
But does it have anything to do with us, today? Desmond Tutu says of Transfiguration that it happens all the time, and in the strangest of places: from the ‘transfiguration’ of winter brown grass into lush bright green of spring grass, to the ‘transfiguration’ of a white defender of ‘apartheid’ into a ‘brother whom God loves just as much as God loves me’. I was deeply moved by Tutu’s capacity (in God has a Dream, 3-9) to take this long word, from a weird story, and turn it into a word that is promise filled, and salted with hope.
Take a moment or two this week to look at something ordinary (or ugly) and imagine what God perceives it to be, transfigured into something glorious and beautiful and hopeful.
Let us know what you discover by posting a comment below.