Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSV)
1Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:
1. What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text? What do I have questions about?
I have always thought that this was a very strange text. Sometimes, I think, we accept texts like this because we have heard them so many times over the course of our lives. But, seriously, think about it. A hike up a high mountain, Jesus is transfigured, his face like the sun, and his clothes dazzling white, and then two people who have been dead for centuries show up. Not only all of that, but the voice of God! If I were one of the disciples, I think I would wonder if I was dreaming at the least, and worry about my sanity at the worst. Maybe that’s why Jesus brought three of them. Each could corroborate the other’s story, when the time came to tell it to others.
I am also challenged by this text because although I have heard many peoples’ stories of their physical encounters with God, it always seems to me that mountaintop experiences don’t last. They give us lots of energy and drive in the moment, but that excitement, that certainty fades away with time until we wonder if it ever really happened at all. Why does God gives us these experiences, if they fade in this way?
2. What delights me in this text? What is my favorite part, and why?
One thing that I never noticed before was that Jesus brings the same disciples that he first calls from being fishermen to being fishers of people (with the exception of Andrew…maybe he was sick that day). Those who are with him at the beginning are still with him at the end.
Another thing which delights me is that the words God says in Jesus’ Baptism still hold true just as he is about to enter Jerusalem and endure the cross. He has been at the business of ministry for three years, and God still claims him, still loves him, is still well pleased with him. For the benefit of the disciples, God adds, “Listen to him.” We know that what Jesus is going to have to say is going to be hard to hear, so I wonder if this command is also encouragement. “Hear him,” God says, “and take heart.”
3. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? How does this story connect to my life?
This episode in Jesus’ life reminds me from a scene in the movie The Neverending Story. https://youtu.be/73dqr81DDyc The main character in the fantasy world, Atreyu, has to face his true self in a magic mirror before he can go through the gate. Who he meets is the little boy reading the Neverending Story book in the attic of his school. It makes me wonder who I would see if I had to face the same mirror. It also makes me thankful for the promises given to us in baptism, where God names us, claims us, forgives us, and saves us. Maybe, like Jesus, when we are transfigured, we will reflect the face of God!
4. What is God up to in this text? What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?
In this text, God is revealing Jesus’ true identity to his closest followers. God speaks, and names Jesus as Son and Beloved. God commands the disciples, and us, to listen to Jesus. And Jesus himself tells the disciples to “Get up, and do not be afraid.” Perhaps this story can help us, too, to get up and cast away our fear, to witness the love of Jesus and to tell others what we have heard and seen. As we conclude the season of Epiphany light, may your light shine with the love of Jesus for the sake of the world. I am looking forward to seeing where God leads us in our Dwelling in the Word together this month!
Pastor Breen Marie Sipes