2 Kings 2:1–12
2 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
2 Corinthians 4:3–6
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
I googled the word “Transfiguration” just to see what I got, and one of the first things that came up was from Harry Potter. Harry Potter went to transfiguration class when he went to Hogwarts to learn how to be a wizard.
There was an actual visual clip there where his teacher, professor Minerva McGonagall changes her pet bird, a hornbill into a water goblet.
So, in the series of Books and movies about Harry Potter transfiguration is to change one figure into another figure.
But what does it mean when Jesus goes up the mountain with some of his disciples and while he is up there, he is transfigured?
And what does it mean for us, if anything?
Some scholars think that the transfigured Jesus is a glimpse of the Resurrected Jesus.
Some scholars think that the transfigured Jesus is a glimpse of the ascended Jesus.
Some scholars think that this transfigured Jesus is Jesus getting a divine charge. Remember it is six days later. Six days later than what? Six days later than when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the son of God, and Jesus told them for the first time that he was on the way to the cross, and his death and his resurrection, and that if any wanted to follow him, they would have to take up a cross.
So, Jesus has set his face towards the cross, and in the church year the transfiguration story is the last story of Jesus before the season of Lent; and we journey with Jesus towards the cross and Good Friday, and then on to the resurrection and Easter Sunday.
So, some think he is getting a taste of God, that the Holy Spirit is recharging Christ’s batteries, that he is getting filled up with grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and kindness and longsuffering, because he is going to need it.
Mark’s gospel is rather straightforward and simple, and doesn’t give many clues as to what the transfiguration is. He basically says Jesus was transfigured in front of them, but what change that is, is not really stated.
Mark does say that Jesus clothes turned so bright white that even whitener couldn’t get them that white.
Reminds me of an old commercial. Guess whose mother’s using Oxydol?
But if his clothes turned white, how did Jesus change? Or did he change?
Actually, that is what the word transfigure means. It is means change or transformation.
The Greek word is metemorphōthé. It is a Greek word from which we get the word metamorphosis which is a word meaning change. Specifically, in insects or amphibians it is a change from an immature form to an adult form in 2 or more stages.
If we are talking about the metamorphosis of a person we are talking about a person radically changing.
Interestingly enough when Paul uses the same word in his epistles it isn’t translated as transfigured, but is translated as transformed. For instance, in Romans 12: 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be metamorphosed (transformed) by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So, some kind of change is happening, or hinted at. It seems to be a physical change the disciples can see, but as in many biblical stories it has a deeper meaning and the physical change is referring to a deeper spiritual thing going on in ones’ heart or mind or soul or spirit.
Maybe part of the clue is the people who show up at the transfiguration. It is Moses and Elijah. How the disciples know it is Moses and Elijah is a bit of a mystery. There were no photographs in those days. Jewish art was limited because of the commandment about graven images, so there were no portraits of Moses and Elijah for people to know what they looked like.
But we will just leave that as a question that cannot be answered. Moses probably represents the giving of the law, and Elijah was probably the greatest prophet.
The Law and the Prophets was primarily the Jewish tradition.
Now I believe that the transfiguration is about a change. One of the changes is the understanding of authority.
For Jews, the greatest authority was the law and the prophets. It pretty much summed up their scripture.
But the change is this, Jesus has not come to do away with Law and Prophets, he has come to fulfill them, But, and I think it is a big But….. Jesus is superior to the law and prophets.
That is why the voice says: This is my son whom I love. Listen to him.
Peter wants to treat them as equals. He wants to build three memorial tabernacles for each of Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
But they are not equals.
And for me it is a principle of biblical interpretation. The principle of listening to Jesus, and that Jesus takes pre-eminence over all biblical interpretation.
One of the changes that happens when we listen to Jesus is that there is more love in Jesus, and Jesus teaches that God is not out to get us. That is in direct contrast to the prophet Elijah who wondrously called down fire from heaven, but then killed all the prophets of Baal personally.
One of the changes that happens when we listen to Jesus is that the law is not the end all or be all, but God is, Jesus is, Spirit is… So, we see that in the Law of Moses it called for people with certain transgressions to be stoned, and yet Jesus forgave the woman taken in adultery who according to the law should have been stoned.
Jesus is transforming our understanding of God. Brian Zahnd a pastor in Missouri wrote a book, Sinners in the hands of a loving God whose title is a twist on a famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards entitled: Sinners in the hands of an angry God.
Taking seriously the non-violent nature of Jesus and God, Zahnd writes a book showing that the God’s unconditional love for us is indeed good news; and that is metamorphosis in the understanding of God, that Jesus brought to life.
I quote from Zahnd:
I’m a Christian, not a Biblicist. The Bible is subordinate to Christ. But let me make this clear: I love the Old Testament. I’m a million miles from the second-century heresy of Marcion who regarded the God of the Old Testament as a demiurge and wanted to eliminate the Hebrew Scriptures from the Christian canon. My approach to the Old Testament is nothing like Marcion’s. I call the Old Testament sacred Scripture. I read the Old Testament every day. I pray the psalms. I preach the Prophets. I understand the history of Israel as the essential prequel to the story of Christ. But I don’t regard the Old Testament as the perfect revelation of God, and I never read the Old Testament without Jesus. Jesus is my sponsor for admission into the Old Testament. (Why else would a Gentile read the ancient Hebrew Scriptures?) I don’t read the Law and the Prophets by the light of Moses and Elijah; I read the Law and the Prophets in the light of Christ. So, if Moses instructs capital punishment and Elijah models violent retribution, I remember Mount Tabor (the Transfiguration) and the voice from heaven that said, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’ The final testimony of Moses and Elijah is to recede into the background so that Jesus stands alone as the full and true Word of God. Jesus is what God has to say! (60-61)
Jesus is what God has to say.
And what Jesus has come to say….?
What Jesus has come to be…?
What Jesus has come to teach…?
What Jesus shows us is what it means to be fully human.
What is the change that happened to Jesus? Jesus is the divine who becomes human.
What is the transformation that God wants of us? God wants us to be fully human.
God wants us to be what he intended us humans to be in the first place.
God wants us to be human and humane, kind and loving, good and compassionate.
God wants us to be human like Christ showed us how to be human.
Let me quote from the Rev. Elizabeth Edman which I found in a daily meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation.( https://cac.org/true-self-and-false-self-2019-10-24/)
I was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1962. The world I grew up in was defined by rigid binaries: white/black, capitalist/communist, north/south. Oh yeah, and male/female. That one didn’t work for this tomboy.
When I was five, I had to drag my mother into the boy’s section of the shoe store to look at sneakers. “Mama, c’mere! Let me show you the ones I want!”
My family taught me, “Be who you are, Elizabeth, even when other people give you guff.” When I presented the shoes to the clerk, he said, “Those are boys’ shoes.”
My mother cut him off: “Yes, size four, please.”
My mother was a singer. Being who she was meant having the courage to witness God’s presence in the sacred music she loved. You could see her put her whole trust in God, entering into this space between heaven and earth where her best voice, her best self, emerged.
Christianity is all about being who you are [what Richard Rohr calls your True Self in God].
That’s what Jesus was trying to tell us: Orient your whole being to the sacred, he insisted. Not because I’m telling you to, not because it’s what Scripture demands; do it because it’s who you are. It’s who God created you to be. God made us to be complex creatures, every one of us, for a reason. So, if you want to honor God, here’s the first step: Know who you are. Be who you are. Be the person God created you to be. Amen.
Be fully human in the best sense of what human is.
The Scholar Walter Wink spent a lot of his time talking about the structures of society, the institutions, such as governments and corporations and educational institutions and medical institutions, and countries, and councils and the military industrial complex, which he called the Principalities and Powers, and even though many of these institutions are necessary and do good, they are fallen and broken and dehumanize people.
Jesus came to rehumanize people, to what a real human is.
I quote from Walter Wink’s book: The Human Being: Jesus and the enigma of the Son of Man:
“And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN … It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.”
So, for us, the real issue today, is not what change happened to Jesus in the transfiguration story, nor what change happened to Elijah as he is taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, but whether the ones left behind… the disciples in the transfiguration, and Elisha in the Elijah ascension… will change, and whether they will take up the mantle of being fully human…
…knowing full well that true humanity is a road to a cross.
The transfiguration story is a story which asks us this: Will we take up our cross and be transformed to be fully human and follow Jesus into the true humanity of loving and caring for others no matter what they consequences, even up to and including our own death.
We are just into Black History month, and I am reminded of one of the people I remember in this month. Martin Luther King Jr. He was not perfect but he was on that journey of trying to make the world more human and more humane, trying to make the world a place where every human was valued. And for him he did take up a cross and give his life.
Another story comes to mind when I think about transforming into a human, and about transforming society to be more humane…
And it is another story about race, and it is the story “To Kill a Mockingbird” written by Harper Lee.
The Christlike person in the story is a lawyer by the name of Atticus Finch, who is a widower and has two children; and whose character in the book is of a highly principled man, who not only defends a black person in a very prejudiced American South, but even risks his own life, protecting the man from a lynch mob.
Earlier in the story, there is a rabid dog and the Sheriff lets Atticus kill it because Atticus is a good shot. The dog represents that community which is sick. It is ill with prejudice. And while the rabid dog is a metaphor for a sick community, one kills a rabid dog, but you cannot kill a community. You have to try and change it.
Atticus stands up to that sickness, that prejudice and at one point in the trial, the African Americans who are sitting in the balcony, known as the coloured section, rise to their feet as Atticus leaves to acknowledge the greatness of a man who treats them as God’s children.
Atticus is the Christ figure, not because he is divine and can do miracles, but because he is an example of what a real human is and can be…
But the story isn’t told by Atticus. It is told by Scout, his daughter.
Scout is a young girl, innocent and learning. She is good-hearted and kind, and is not bound up in social convention. Instead of pretty dresses she wears overalls.
Atticus has raised her to be herself and to think for herself.
She is the one who treats the emotionally damaged Boo Radley with kindness, see the good in him, although most of the town think he’s a monster.
She and Jeb, her brother, sit up in the coloured section during the trial and treat them as friends and equals.
The story is really about her growing up into her humanity and learning to be a human and humane, even in the midst of evil and prejudice.
Scout herself takes up a cross, even though she doesn’t really know it, for at the end of the story Scout’s very life is threatened by evil. She is saved by the kindness she showed to the one, whom others thought was a monster. It is Boo Radley that saves her…
A metaphor of how including and loving people is the way to save and heal communities.
Today we are Scout, followers of Jesus who stood up for all people, who is our heavenly lawyer interceding on our behalf.
Through him we are growing up into what it means to be human, and be humane…
…to be kind and loving, even though there is still evil and sickness and prejudice and suffering in the world. Learning to see the good in people, and helping individuals and communities heal by including and loving.
And sometimes if we want equality, and justice, and practice kindness and love, we will have to take up a cross and risk everything.
In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, with a beauty in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make us holy, let us live to make all free.
Our God is marching with us so that we can be fully human. Amen