Weekly Gospel Reflection—02 March 2014
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.
Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.
But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”
The transfiguration of Jesus.
A lot of people see in this story Jesus’ divinity. But upon further examination, that idea comes up short. You see, in Luke’s telling of the story (Luke 9.28-36), Moses and Elijah are also “clothed with heavenly splendor.” So, this story isn’t about Jesus’ divinity. But if it’s not about that, what is it about?
Matthew has been telling his version of the story in a such a way to say that Jesus is the “end” or “goal” of Israel’s story. From the birth of “G‑d with us” (Matthew 1.18ff); to the coming of the Magi seeking the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2.1-15); to John the Baptist warning the Jews of the coming judgment of Yahweh (Matthew 3.1-12); to the giving of the New Law (Matthew 5-7); to the many stories about the Realm of G-d (Matthew 13); Matthew has been building to a crescendo of showing that the coming Realm of G-d was somehow happening through Jesus (Matthew 4.17). Jesus is, for all intents and purposes, the embodiment of the New Covenant — the Realm of G-d. Therefore, the incoming of the New Covenant would be the end of the Old Covenantal age. We see that played out in the story above.
Moses and Elijah represent the “Law and the Prophets,” i.e., the heart and soul of the Old Covenant. In the story above, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. G‑d’s presence (like that which Moses experienced when he received the Law), like a shiny cloud, envelops the group. The disciples fall to their faces in reverence. When they open their eyes, Moses and Elijah are gone — only Jesus remains.
Taking this as a metaphor, the Old Covenant represented by the “Law and Prophets” appears alongside the “New Covenant.” When the disciples open their eyes, the Old Covenant is gone and the New Covenant remains.
Or, to look at this another way — and one that, in my opinion, better fits Jesus’ whole ministry of ushering in the long-awaited promised “Realm of G-d” — Moses and Elijah represented the then “present age” (Matthew 13.49 or as Paul put it, the then “present evil age,” Galatians 1.4) and Jesus represented the “coming age” or the “Realm of G-d” (see Matthew 12.32; Mark 10.30; Luke 18.30; Hebrews 6.5). When the disciples look up, only the “Realm of G-d” remains.
This, to me, completely fits within the story that Matthew is telling. However reality-warping it may seem to us, Jesus inaugurated the Realm of G-d on earth. This is the story that we must continue to tell ourselves, especially when we see so much brokenness in the world. We need to tell ourselves that, no matter what others may say, through Jesus, “[G-d] reconciled everything to himself. [G-d] made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Colossians 1.20; NLT). And, by doing that, G-d “disarmed the rulers and authorities” and “exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade” (Colossians 2.15). So, no matter what others may say Christus Victor!
However, this isn’t mean everything’s completed. Heaven’s no! There’s still a lot of work left to do. One of the big mistakes people make with inaugurated eschatology is assuming that means “this is heaven.” “Well,” they reply, “if this is heaven, then G-d failed!” This comes from a misunderstanding of several key issues and, unfortunately, we don’t have time to dig into all of them. But the biggest misunderstanding is that an inaugurated eschatology doesn’t mean a consummated eschatology. That is, it’s not finished yet! There’s still plenty of work left to do. And that, my friends, is our job. It is through the power of the Spirit that we continue to work for justice, peace, and equality before “heaven” (G-d’s Realm) and “earth” (our realm) become one (see Revelation 21-22).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC