Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bright Revealing!



THIS WEEK we examine a text used for Transfiguration Sunday. A description given is of a mountaintop experience for Jesus. Though also supplied by other gospel writers, the scene written here in the Gospel According to Saint Luke noted specifically that suffering and glory in Jerusalem was planned as an unfolding path for our Lord. We read…

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.
 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)

Day Even Unto Night…
Our gospel reading from Luke elaborates on the historical tradition received from the earlier penned Gospel According to Saint Mark (see Mark 9:2-8, as written c. 65-68 A.D.). The account  recorded here in Luke, however, seems to contain an added historical dimension. The text was seems more uniquely derived from Saint Peter. As well, the writing from its very outset presented some Roman characteristics.
 For example, we see that the time frame lapsing in the event changed from the earlier account in Mark, and the amount of information told was expanded. First we see a difference in the number of days that had passed since the previous scene in the gospel. Both Mark and Matthew had related that, “After six days Jesus went up…” Luke wrote here, however, that it was about eight days. The difference was not an error, however, in that we may attribute this change to the count of days according to the different cultures. The Hebrew count was six days from one Sabbath to another. Luke, being a Gentile related that eight days had passed… six days since the previous Sabbath, then one to climb the mountain and spend the night… and another to return to the base of the mountain on the next day.
 I believe the key to this assumption lay in the declaration that the disciples fell asleep during the event. I view that it took nearly a full day to climb the mountain, then Jesus prayed in the late afternoon or evening hours. Afterward, in spite of the dramatic scene of the two men speaking with Jesus, the disciples fell asleep though great revelation unfolded around them.
 In all gospel accounts we read that the disciples, Peter, James and John, all climbed the mountain with Jesus. These three could be likened to Aaron, Nadab and Abihu… who were assistants of Moses after his descent from the mountain of God when the Law was given. Though the three disciples were on the mountain as witnesses, Peter was the only disciple who had historically remained active in ministry into the latter decades of the first century. History records that Peter wasn’t killed until the sixth decade because of his Christian witness. Luke is thought thus to have compiled and written this account by 85-90 A.D. This dating I see as proof for the account to be a gospel that had been expanded by the witness of Peter.
 As to Peter’s penchant in recording the history, being a Jew ministering to the Gentiles meant that he considered the Hebrew legacy to be very important. Peter here reminded all that Moses stood as a founder of Israel’s religious history. Also, we recall that Elijah had originally appeared when Israel declined in population so that only about 7,000 faithful persons remained. The presence of the two prophets spoke with clearness then concerning the survival of the emerging Christian church during the late first century. For Peter the inclusion of Moses and Elijah was seen to assure our Lord’s disciples, and finally the later church, that Jesus’ death was in perfect accord with the Jewish prophecies concerning the Messiah.
 We therefore rightly must ask here, “How did the disciples know who the men were, who spoke with Jesus during that time on the mountain? Certainly those prophets who had served God from a time long past, before either Jesus' birth, the disciples had never seen before. We can only assume that the prophet's identities were revealed at some during the mountaintop event… possibly identified to the disciples in the “cloud”. Certainly, that misty state symbolized a unique revelation that came upon them from God.
 We note here that only Luke wrote in his gospel concerning the conversation of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Peter had likely related the content in later years... that it concerned Jesus departure... which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. We consequently further claim Peter was a working source for Luke. This argument is strengthened in that the word “exodus” (in the Greek - ἔξοδος), was also used with reference to the departure (see 2 Peter 1:15). That letter tells of Peter's influence on the church. The word “departure” for Peter meant more than just death. The word signified the entire exodus of Jesus as a “crossing over” by which our Lord left this earth. The exodus was the whole trip... his ministry, sacrificial death, Resurrection and subsequent glorification upon Ascension. Departure was subsequently for Peter not just death and burial. As well, the following events that we know as the Resurrection and Ascension were not just happenstance.

At the Dawn…
Luke alone related that the disciples slept during that night, and once fully awake at daylight they saw the two men still standing with Jesus. Our Lord had at first continued a long time in prayer during the night, much like he was to do in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then as the brilliance came from him, he had spoken with the prophets. In my opinion, the morning scene indicates that we as sinners never seem to learn. This dramatic and prophetic scene revealed a further miracle… like the eternal brightness present at Easter dawn that described as angels stood and soldiers slept at the empty tomb of the Risen Christ Jesus.
 Also, Luke told his churches that Peter spoke to Jesus just as Moses and Elijah were leaving. This was unexpected behavior, because the disciples were only called to be present as witnesses at the mountaintop. No one involved in the glorious scene had taken upon themselves to speak to the watching men, thus Peter’s words consequently reveal that he blurted out in a confused effort to keep Moses and Elijah from leaving.
 We note that he spoke to Jesus and what he said was important. Peter seemingly thought that it was certainly excellent for them to be there, and he wanted to preserve the moment for Israel’s future days. Though there seemed to be a spirit of this confusion, irregardless, the reason Peter wanted to build booths was likely to remind the people of the “Festival of Booths”. The festival regularly celebrated the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
 However, we find that Peter was to eventually know that the work of God was not to be confined to Israel. Peter’s foolish request revealed that at first he thought the glorified persons could remain on the sinful earth and would need shelters. He thought booths would establish them as firmly rooted solely as Israel’s inheritance. As we know here by Luke’s account, this was not to be. Through the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus the whole of the sinful, finite world was to be reconciled with the Infinite love of God. Jesus’ mission was to offer salvation before all humanity, and that purpose was not to be confined to the earthly territory of Israel.
 We attentively note also that the cloud that gathered to surround the disciples was described by Luke as bright, and not of a dark thunderstorm variety. This told his early readers, and we who also now receive these words… that this scene relates a transcendent, brighter reality. The cloud was so bright that we sinful humans can only partly comprehend the stunning grace of God. This scene was almost beyond the ability of Peter to relate, but he is seen through Luke… as one who enlightens us just enough that we might see a clear path ahead. It is an “epiphany” story, a telling wherein we can view the divine in our mind’s eye. Through this relating of the story we, though sinful… can see more clearly so to take our place in the kingdom as forgiven sinners. In this way, though we are not worthy, we become wrapped as well in the brightness of scriptural knowledge. We find ourselves included in the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. I believe that so it was intended by Luke in this gospel, and so it shall be for a time to come. Thanks be to God


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