Posted on Wed, Mar 1, 2017
February 26, 2017
Gospel Text: Matthew 17:1-9 "It All Comes Together"
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then 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.’ 5 While 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!’ 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As 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.’
The Transfiguration text! I love this text! Whether you believe it as fact and it happened just the way it happened or not, it really doesn't matter. The fact is how this text frames every event that is about to happen from Ash Wednesday through Ascension Day.
The event tells us exactly who Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, sent to fulfill the “Law and the Prophets.” Which is what Jesus said he was to sent to do, but it is also the time where Jesus takes the three disciples, the ones who would one day become his main Evangelists after Jesus ascends to heaven, up the mountain for an experience they would never forget in order to help them understand in every possible way who this Jesus is and who they are to preach to all the world.
First of all, the text begins with the phrase, “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.” What happened ‘six days’ earlier? In the book of Matthew, those are the texts about “if you want to be my disciple, you must pick up your cross and follow me.” Plus, the straw that broke Peter’s back, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” For Peter, this was too much for him to take, let alone understand. The thought of his master going into Jerusalem, and instead of being welcomed like Kind David, or like the actual Messiah of God, this was too much. He even goes on to say, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” He couldn't imagine his Lord being killed like a common sinner, on a cross, at the hands of pious religious leaders whose prayers were just hot air and pious lies. The idea of Jesus allowing himself to be judged by overrated religious leaders that stole from the poor by preaching guilt, obligation and outright lies in order to maintain their false social status? They saw the miracles Jesus did, the compassion he demonstrated, and they heard the words Jesus spoke against the religious leaders and their perverted relationship with the Roman Army, just to protect their positions of power and status.
But if you think about it, the point of Jesus entire ministry was to go to the cross to demonstrate God’s unbelievable mercy and grace to die for sinners like these. It was exactly for the lost sheep of Israel, and all those who have yet to hear and believe the Good News of the grace of God, these were the people Jesus came to save… and strangely, even people of today have trouble with this concept. Look at our world, rather than holding up the value of acceptance of our differences or simple respect of the stranger, nations and peoples all over the world are banding together to identify the outsider and those who are considered not worthy to be welcomed into their midst. It is not even a question of “tolerance,” people are just immediately holding up the banner that if you aren’t “us,” we don't even want to learn about the way you think, your values, language anything… so you are NOT welcome. I’m not talking about a wall dividing Mexico and the USA, I am talking about the fanatical obsession about identifying ways to separate people, cultures, languages, religious beliefs are any source of fear humans can dream up… I’ve never seen the world acting like this before, but there is a palpable difference to the atmosphere of today and the rise of fear of what we really don’t even understand.
So Jesus takes Peter, James and John on a hike ‘up a mountain.’ Whenever Jesus or a prophet went up a mountain, be ready for some important teaching or even to happen. No different here. The three disciples suddenly see Jesus standing with Elijah and Moses. How they knew the two strangers were Elijah and Moses, who knows? Probably those little stickers saying, “Hello, my name is Elijah.” Matthew isn’t interested in those details, the point is that Jesus makes it clear, his mission wasn't to do away with the Law, but to fulfill ALL of the “Law and the Prophets.” Obviously, Moses represents the Law, but what about the prophet Elijah?
On this one Jewish commentary I was reading, you could feel the excitement about Elijah! The Rabbi made him sound like a Jewish combination of Robin Hood and Superman! One Rabbi writes, “The most beloved prophet of all; with whom the future redemption of Israel through Messiah is closely linked; who frequently comes down to earth to help Jews in distress or reveal some secrets of the divine Torah to our great scholars; who is present at the covenant with G‑d entered into by the Jewish child at the age of eight days; who visits us at the 'Seder' - this is our prophet Elijah!”
According to 1 Kings 16:29-19:18, King Ahab erects a temple to Baal in Samaria and his Canaanite wife, Jezebel, bring in 450 Baal prophets. Jezebel then begins to persecuting and killing prophets of the Lord of Israel. Elijah declares a drought to punish the nation for its idolatry and deceit. In so doing he effectively challenges Baal in his very quality as a fertility god. Elijah has to go into hiding during the drought but is miraculously fed by God who sends ravens to feed him. During that time Elijah also heals the son of a poor widow. Then there is this amazing contest between Elijah and the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel. The god who would answer his prophet’s call with fire from heaven would be vindicated as the true god. Elijah wins, God is vindicated and Elijah’s Baalite antagonists are slaughtered by Elijah himself and others. It is very dramatic!
There is another time when Elijah has to again confront the deceit of Ahab and Jezebel in their arranging the murder of Naboth in order to take Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth refuses to sell her vineyard because her husband suffers from depression. Jezebel writes slanderous letters in her husband Ahab the king’s name, bring false charges against Naboth for “cursing God and king,” and the result is Naboth being stoned by the people, and Ahab taking Naboth’s vineyard. Elijah hears about this sin by the Queen against a normal person and declares a terrible prophecy of doom against the king and queen.
Think of what this story means to the occupied people of Israel in Jesus time… it is wrong for anyone, ESPECIALLY a king or queen to lie and bully a regular family from their rightful land, and God will not tolerate this.
Elijah is remembered as a zealot for the Lord fighting against idolatry and injustice. He is identified as the Lord’s messenger and teacher. According to Malachi he is known as the one to purify the priesthood, to be a supreme teacher and to “reconcile fathers and sons.” He is remembered as one who would restore the tribes of Jacob. He is also known as the one prophet who would not taste the sting of death, and God took him away on a flaming chariot.
As a prophet, he confronted those who would lie and persecute the people of God, he was faithful in accepting God’s help, he was a servant in healing the son of the widow, he confronted deceitfulness and wasn't afraid to confront even kings and queens for the sake of God’s justice, he was a teacher and one who was known to bring people together. This is what God is all about and considered the greatest among the prophets. The qualities of Elijah, were the qualities of the Messiah, and therefore Elijah was the one standing with Moses talking about Jesus’ EXODUS.
This event takes place as Jesus is taking His disciples to finally fulfill God’s mission of bringing forgiveness and mercy to all people. Jesus was about to do what Peter could not accept and would never understand until the day Jesus ascends into the heavens. At that time Peter will be a witness (albeit a reluctant witness) to Jesus’ resurrection, receiving the Holy Spirit, and given the mantle as being the foundation of Jesus’ Church.
We are about to enter the season of Lent. Like Advent is a time to prepare our hearts to welcome our Lord into our world, our lives and our heart, Let is a time to prepare ourselves to receive the greatest gift of all. Unconditional Grace, Grace upon Grace, Love and mercy that we could never deserve let alone even have the courage to ask for.
The most amazing gift of this season is not just knowing that this gift is for you and me; the gift of repentance and forgiveness is for the entire world. Forgiveness frees us from living in fear and dread and are blind to the goodness and mercy that surrounds us closer than the air we breath.
Our task during this time is to believe and let this news of ultimate healing restore us so that we can be the People of God, the vessels of mercy our world is crying out for.
We don't live in fear; we live in faith and joy! Amen.
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