Bible Tuesdays for Transfiguration Sunday, 2018
2 Kings 2:1-12
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” 4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” 6Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
This is an amazing story of transfer of power. A few chapters earlier in Kings, Elijah cries out to God that he is sick to death of his job, proclaiming God’s will/love through word and deed to a people who don’t want to hear it…who actually thumb their noses at it. The Israelites’ disdain for God and God’s prophet is so great that the king and queen of Israel put a price on Elijah’s head. He flees across the Jordan to Horeb (Hebrew word for “chaos”) and waits to either die or hear from God. God does appear in sheer silence from which he speaks to Elijah. God send Elijah back to Israel with a few final tasks, including to find his successor.
Elijah identifies Elisha as his successor and then tries to slip away back to Horeb and wait to die. However, Elisha will not leave him. In the above passage, each group of prophets whom Elijah and Elisha encounter symbolize the mundane, day to day life Jews. At each encounter, the prophets stay while Elijah and Elisha journey on toward a divine meeting. When Elijah is taken up, Elisha rends his clothes out of grief, but also removes them to assume Elijah’s mantle. Elisha then shows his true succession to Elijah’s place by using the mantle to part the Jordan River in the verses after the above pericope.
Because Elijah was such a great prophet, actually having conversations with God, and because he was taken to heaven without dying, it was Jewish tradition that Elijah would come back to earth as the herald of the Messiah.
The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
3Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.
4He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5“Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
6The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah
This is a psalm that sings of God’s supremacy over all creation and the favored relationship the Israelites have with God. The first line is a reference to God’s reign all day long, everywhere that the sun shines. The second line speaks of God as if He were the sun. From where does God’s light emanate? Zion, the hill in the city of Jerusalem on which the Temple was built. Verse 3 references the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day with which God led Israel in the wilderness. As God created all, God commands all places to spit out for God the Jewish diaspora, scattered to the ends of the earth. God identifies Israel as the people with whom He is in covenant, and whom He will judge in righteousness.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
In Paul’s second letter to the congregation in Corinth, he addresses the question of, “If God is all loving and Jesus came to save the world, then why are there some, frankly most, who don’t believe in Jesus?”
Paul talks about the gospel being veiled so that only some people can see it. Paul states that careers, influence, clout, big houses, trophy spouses, perfect kids, can all be idols that blind us to the real God, a plain ol’ guy, a great guy, who was publicly tortured and executed, and raised to life again. If people claim to be teaching about this Jesus guy, but in fact they want you to give them adulation, then those are false prophets. Paul says real evangelists (Greek for “those who spread good news”) are actually slaves to Jesus and to all whom Jesus loves (everyone!).
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
“Six days later…” Six days after what? In the end of chapter 8, Jesus tells the disciples that it is now time for him to head to Jerusalem. Peter says, “No way! They’ll kill you there!” Jesus responds with, “If any would be my disciples, they must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow me, for those who love their lives will lose their lives for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save them.”
So then, the transfiguration is the first step on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Jesus and all who follow him. Jesus’ trip to the top of the mountain with his closest disciples recalls Moses’ trip up Mt. Horeb with Joshua and the chief elders of Israel, complete with thick cloud out of which God speaks. Moses went up Horeb to talk with God and receive the Law. But Jesus goes up that hill for very different reasons.
First, the gospel of Mark tells us how completely clueless the disciples were, sometimes laughably so. It almost seems like this trip up the mountain is to give respite to Jesus who craves adult conversation with two people who can truly relate. But maybe those are my stay-at-home-mom years talking. Second, Jesus is dazzling white, but Moses and Elijah are not, and Moses and Elijah come and go, but Jesus is there throughout the event. Mark is showing us that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled and surpassed by Jesus. To confirm this heresy, God says, “This is my son! The Beloved! LISTEN TO HIM!” Jesus’s teachings, actions, death, resurrection, and ascension fulfill, and embody the Law as God intended it. The faithful are to lift up their eyes from the Law to gaze upon and follow Jesus.