- Ask Dr. Cobb
- Creative Transformation
Last Sunday after Epiphany
March 2, 2003
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
The story of Elijah ascending into heaven in a chariot of fire is no doubt included today to show why he was included on the mountain with Moses and Jesus. Elijah and Moses were believed to have not died but were taken direct to heaven by God. Mark is initially placing Jesus in the same category as Moses and Elijah, but them goes on to show that Jesus was not only in the presence of God but was the Beloved Son. The journey of Elijah and Elisha is full of references of the exodus, the new beginning of the ‘chosen people of YHWH’. The succession of Elisha from Elijah, like the succession of Joshua from Moses, and like the disciples from Jesus, is a testimony of God’s ability to continue a specific work across more than one lifetime, and even across the whole expanse of history.
The Psalms, by their use of poetry, give us some of the Scriptures clearest understanding of God’s intervention into the affairs of mankind. Psalm 50 talks of God speaking to, and summoning the earth at all times, ‘from the rising of the sun to its setting.’ God calls to the whole of creation, the heavens and the earth “that he may judge his people.” In this sense, to ‘judge’ does not imply an impartial and detached weighing up of good and evil, but rather, to work with people to take vigorous action against evil. Judgement is not some legal principal but a personal notion closely linked to the thought of God’s character of mercy, loving-kindness, righteousness, and justice. By this definition, God’s judgement sounds very much like the lure towards novelty, beauty and harmony.
Paul is having real trouble with the Corinthians and he reminds them of the role of their God in creation. The same God who created light out of darkness, the same God who ordered the universe, is the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. Even though the world may have on its blinkers and refuse to see and to hear, God still brings to them possibilities for good. Paul says that God shines the ‘light of knowledge’ into everyone’s heart. There is no hint of dualism or gnosticism in this; the knowledge of the glory of God is available to all.
The story of the Transfiguration has been the subject of many interpretations over the years. The similarities with the ‘baptism’ of Jesus are obvious. Some interpret the story as a misplaced resurrection appearance, or as a literary devise to express the Disciples faith in the messiah-ship of Jesus. It has been seen as a mystical vision, though the appearance of Moses and Elijah make this unusual. It has been used as an early interpretation of the Trinity, representing Law, Teaching, and Salvation. The Greek Fathers held the feast of the Transfiguration forty days before the Crucifixion. They saw it as a revelation of Christ’s divine nature and as a pointer to the parousia and the fulfilment of the Kingdom.
In Mark’s God-filled universe, the Transfiguration was one way of expressing the true nature of Jesus. This post-Easter Gospel understands Jesus in terms of his suffering, resurrection, and final vindication. Mark’s description indicates that Jesus’ Transfiguration was for the benefit of the Disciples, since it was ‘in their presence’. For a brief moment the three disciples have been allowed to have a shared vision of the post-resurrection Jesus. Why were the Disciples told not to tell any one what they had seen? However we interpret the story, there remains a tension between the understanding of Jesus by his contemporaries, and the post-Easter beliefs they held at the time of writing. Morna D Hooker says that Mark uses this story to assure his community that what they believe about Jesus is true, even though men and women were unable to comprehend it during his lifetime. Even those privileged few Disciples who glimpsed the truth after the resurrection, were bewildered by it.
The readings for Transfiguration Sunday are full of Process symbolism. The Transfiguration story comes just after Peter has proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, and is a turning point in Jesus’ journey and ministry. Mark tells us that Jesus was “transfigured” before the Disciples. The verb used is metamorphousthai, ‘to be transformed’. The words and the symbolism are of ‘a new baptism’, and a ‘new creation’. The story of the Transfiguration is a wonderful example of each moment being influenced by the past, (the presence of Moses and Elijah), and the influenced by God, (“This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him.”) At each moment Jesus was able to unify the past, with what heard and understood, to be God’s lure. The creative energy Jesus gained allows him to become even more integrated with God’s vision of possibilities for the world. By following the lure of God, even when it meant his own death, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth. Is this an example of creative transformation at work?