The Gospel of the Day – 2016.02.21 (Sunday)
The Transfiguration of Christ
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen. (NJB)
Myth and Reason
Theology; the words we use to speak about God. These words are only good and useful, if they are grounded and rational.
Mythology; the words we use to contextualize our experience, when we wish to speak in metaphors, and analogies, so that we may link our experiences to the world beyond ourselves.
These two modes of narrative are not necessarily at odds with each other, but they can be. Myth can be grounded and rational, when the motif of the metaphor, or the allegory are understood and properly balanced, when you engage this narrative with your eyes wide open. By the same token theology can be irrational, when the assumptions we make about the nature of reality, the nature of humanity, the nature of the divine, and the divine economy are not rooted in truth. Or worse, if they are rooted in fear, hate and greed.
The mythology behind the transfiguration is easily, and often misinterpreted. It is likely, that this is so because the root of the narrative in itself has its origins in a fundamental misunderstanding of who Jesus was.
It may be the case that those who first gave voice to the narrative, and those who first penned it, only intended the message to be that Jesus stood in the same tradition as Moses; the lawgiver, and Elijah; the prophet.
The motif of the cloud descending on Jesus may have only been meant to suggest that Jesus’ authority, his understanding of the divine will, came from a place of mystery.
The voice from the cloud naming Jesus as “son,” may have only been meant to convey the message that Jesus is the “heir” to the Abrahamic tradition, and not merely a “teacher” in that tradition.
This is the grounded and rational interpretation of this myth.
However, as happens most often, the interpreters of this myth point to the more sensational images in the narrative; the bright lights, and the shining garments, the presence of Moses, and Elijah (as if they were actually there), their journey into the cloud with Jesus (as if they went there bodily), the voice from that cloud naming Jesus as God’s son, as an actual declaration of paternity.
This fantasy-based in interpretation has led to great confusion through the centuries. Incredible conflict has ensued based on these fantastic beliefs; conflict and bloody warfare among Christians, and with non-Christians. All because they felt the need to take sides on the question of who Jesus was, and defend their side with violence.
It is a tragedy.
Jesus was a human being, like any other. Like all creatures he carried a seed of the divine within him, and where the divine is, the divine is present fully. The fullness of God dwelt within Jesus, just as the fullness of God dwells within each of us. We are connected and in relationship to God, and Jesus, just as we are connected and in relationship to every creature who ever was, is, or yet will be.
What differentiated Jesus from his followers was his understanding of these truths and his ability to apply that understanding in a way that points the way for us; to live in a moral and just society to, for our own understanding of that truth to flow from it.
2nd Sunday of Lent