Jesus’ Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-43) is a strange story, even when compared with the miracles and unexpected events of the gospel. What does it mean? What difference does it make?
It does highlight the need to read each part of the gospel in context. Not only does this come in the middle of the gospel, It is in a chapter full of change.
The 12 have been sent out 2 by 2 on mission. Coming back, the crowd interrupted their “time off” with Jesus, and he fed 5,000. Then Jesus asks about what people are saying about him, and Peter recognises the Messiah, the promised King sent by God – but immediately Jesus talks, not of majesty, but of suffering and death.
Then comes this mountaintop experience, perhaps throwing a new light on what is happening. Jesus shows the glory of heaven. Moses, representing the Old Testament leaders, and the Law, is present as a witness, and so is Elijah, not just representing the prophets of the Old Testament, but also the forerunner promised in Malachi 4:5-6. They talk of Jesus “departure” – the Greek word is “Exodus” – which he will “bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem”.
Perhaps you see what is happening. Jesus is taking his mission in an unexpected direction. He will deliberately avoid a revolution to try and make him King, and instead offer himself as a sacrifice. Will the disciples understand? – Will we?
Peter is still thrilled by the experience, and he wants to stay. The heavenly voice has a different priority – “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
The journey of faith will test their loyalty. Jesus will go in directions they did not expect – and did not want. But they continued to learn to listen, trust, and follow.
That’s all very well in the first century. We might think we know better, and set off into Lent with the same routines – choosing something to “give up”. But what we need to do, especially at a time of change, is to consider the cost of Jesus’ rescue, and to “spring clean” our spiritual habits to make sure they fit the needs of faith now.
Yes, society is changing, the Church is changing; perhaps it is a time of uncertainty or transition for you, too. So we all need a new vision of Jesus, which give us confidence and the motivation.
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” – because that is specially important when things are developing rapidly, and may not be as they seem.
At the bottom of the hill, they have to face a failure to heal. The disciples need of Jesus is again clear. They are learning to reflect God’s glory, to work with the Holy Spirit and follow God’s chosen way. But they have not finished learning, and neither have we. So keep close to the Saviour, and keep listening!