February 11, 2024

Jesus and the Transfiguration of Israel

Jesus and the Transfiguration of Israel

Sunday next before Lent 11 February
Readings: 2 Kings 1-12; 2 Corinthians 4. 3-6; Mark 9. 2-9
Theme: Jesus and the transfiguration of Israel

The readings today invite us to reflect on the sonship of Jesus and what his unique identity means for us. They are set within the Old Testament context of the question of inheritance that had been decreed by the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 21. 17). The eldest son was to receive a ‘double portion’ as a sign that they were the rightful heir. It is an identity marker which designates who the person is in the set of relations which go to make up the community to which the person belongs. In the case of Elijah and Elisha the relationship is not a blood one. Elisha is not the son of Elijah, rather he is the successor as the chief prophet of Israel, Elijah, and he had been his disciple, when Elijah was at the height of his powers. The passage we have from 2 Kings, recounts the story of the heavenly departure of Elijah and the transmission of the ‘double portion’, which is the inheritance of sacred power from Elijah to Elisha. It will be Elisha who will now continue in the tradition of criticizing the corrupt Kings of Israel, Ahab and Ahaziah. This all takes place in a difficult period in the history of Israel which required prophetic critique of the rulers of Israel as lacking faithfulness to the Lord.

The Gospel passage from Mark continues the theme of identity and inheritance, but this time the voice of the Lord up the high mountain reveals Jesus to not only be a disciple, but the Son of God: “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him.” Jesus receives an inheritance greater than the ‘double portion’ of Elisha in that he receives his very identity from the one whom he is the son of. As the only Son of the Father, Jesus is begotten and not made from the Father and receives his divine identity as the one who shares the very divine nature of God.

To manifest this, the Gospel of Mark takes us on the journey up a high mountain, which is often a biblical way of setting the scene of a divine revelation. It is up this mountain, which Jesus takes some of his disciples, Peter, James and John, that his transfiguration happens as his clothes become dazzling white. In this setting he is revealed as the one whom he truly is, namely, the Son of God. And to demonstrate this, Mark recounts how Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain and speak with Jesus. These two figures of the Old Testament represent the Law and the Prophets: The media through which the revelation of God to Israel occurs in the Old Testament. This revelation is now no longer through proxies of God, but through God himself in Jesus. Now, the divine revelation is complete. God has been revealed in the flesh and blood in the Son of God and he fulfils the message of the prophets and prescriptions of the law in his very person.

The disciples are clearly dumfounded. They do not know what to make of it, so Peter says he wants to put three tents up for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But the revelation of Jesus on the high mountain is not one which will stay there. It is meant to come down the mountain and to preach the Kingdom of God in the valleys and the countryside. It is a message that will be rejected as the corrupt leadership of Israel, like the corrupt kings in the time of Elijah and Elisha, will fail to grasp who it is who has come to Israel. The return of Elijah on the mountain, is a symbol of the one who is to announce the coming of the messiah. His role in the New Testament is taken by John the Baptist. The one who announces that the long period of waiting in the history of Israel is over, because the messiah has arrived.

The role of the messiah is not to stay on the high mountain and to bask in the heavenly glory symbolized by Moses and Elijah. Rather it is to come down the mountain with the disciples and to begin the work of the transformation of Israel, which is the inauguration of the kingdom of God. If the kings of old, Ahab and Ahaziah were corrupt, now the true king has arrived. The one who will lead Israel into the heavenly kingdom which God has promised to his people. But the transformation of Israel, brought about by the Son of God, will not be a walk in the park. It will be met by resistance at every step of the way, as the rulers of Israel seek to hold on to their power and to close the doors on the entry of the people into the kingdom.

The message for us as we journey down the mountain with the bewildered disciples is that God is working out God’s plans for us. It may often not seem like this, as life has a way of putting so many obstacles in our way, but it was no different for Jesus either. The irony of it is that the resistance is often the way in which the victory of God occurs. The death and the resurrection of Jesus is the quintessential statement of this fact and it is through this that the great transformation of Israel happens. Now, rather than a small tribe in one part of the Roman Empire, the transformed Israel breaks out of its narrow confines and through the ‘double portion’ given to the disciples of Jesus the message is spread to all peoples and places. So, take heart, dear brother and sisters. The transformation of the house of Israel by the Lord has opened out a path for all of us to enter the kingdom of heaven. We like Elisha have inherited a ‘double portion’ of the Spirit as sons and daughters of God; an inheritance by adoption, not by nature as in the case of Jesus, but an inheritance nevertheless.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.