Transfigured

After Leisurely Lectionary this morning, which admitted only ended moments ago, I raced back to try to remember what the word transfigured actually means. We were interpreting it as change this morning, but I’m not sure that’s right. Of course, this means that I pull my favorite feminist theological dictionary off the shelf. Dang. The feminists don’t include this word in my favorite dictionary. This means I have to settle for the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary which defines the event but not the word. It does help me to know that this word comes from the Greek metamorphoo, but I refused to take Greek in seminary because I never wanted to be that obnoxious preacher sounding so smug in the pulpit. So, that doesn’t really help. I have to settle on an actual dictionary where I learn that transfigure does indeed mean change — or renew. Renew doesn’t seem to be the same thing to me.

And yet, I think it is what happens on that mountain in Mark 9:2-9. It happens to everyone in this story — not just Jesus. It happens to James, John and Peter too. Even though these poor guys are supposed to keep every epiphany a secret, something happens where it clicks for all of them. They all figure something out that they didn’t know before because these ancient, wise and highly exalted prophets appeared and talked to Jesus on this mountain. Someone thought it might be that Jesus started to sound like them, as we start to sound like our parents. We say and do things that our parents did. Jesus gets this moment in this exchange with the prophets. That’s nice, but that makes Jesus a little inaccessible for me. It means that Jesus can have this connection to the prophets but I’m never going to have it because I can’t talk to the dead. (Trust me. I’ve tried.) As I looked closer at this passage, it seems that this happens again. It’s not just Jesus who starts to sound like the prophets. It happens to the disciples too. After the cloud has disappeared, after they’ve heard that voice, the disciples and Jesus are talking. Then, they start to sound like him. It starts to click. They begin to understand something that they didn’t understand before. However, it’s not the disciples that are terrified this time. They were scared before, but this time it’s Jesus that is terrified. It’s Jesus that experiences something so holy that even he doesn’t know what to do with it. So, when they go down the mountain, he tells them to keep it quiet. He tells them not to tell anyone. He tells them to wait until the whole story unfolds because only then will they understand.

I find this fascinating. It assumes that we can’t really understand something until we’re older and wiser. Or, at least, this is how we tend to read it. We tend to believe that when the whole story is told, this moment we didn’t really understand (or thought we did) will finally make sense. It’s that adage, “You’ll understand when you’re older.” I struggle with that. The small group I studied with this morning knows that. They teased me. And that’s only fair. I still believe that they knew in that moment. They knew something that they may have known before. (Certainly, Peter had an epiphany just a few verses earlier where he affirms that Jesus is the Messiah.) They knew in that moment. They just talked themselves out of knowing. Or more concretely, Jesus talked them out of it. Jesus was overwhelmed by this sudden epiphany. Perhaps even more than the disciples. To me, this speaks to that very human fear that we can’t really know what it all means. We insist there must be something that we’re missing. We remind ourselves to wait, but we knew in that moment. We knew it in our gut. Now, that’s not true for every moment. This is only for those moments where you are truly renewed. This is only for those moments where you realize something about yourself or your God that you forgot or ignored or dismissed. You know it in your gut when the knowledge comes. It was the thing that was missing.

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