Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Look, Look! Here is Christ!

Transfiguration Sunday, the final Sunday in the season of Epiphany, comes to us this year in Matthew 17:1-9.  Consistent with Jesus, the new Moses, Matthew includes some details about Jesus' transfiguration that remind us of the appearance of Moses in Exodus 34:29-30 when he comes down the mountain the second time with the stone tablets.  His face shines and all who see it are terrified.  We hear also the voice speak which we heard first at Jesus' baptism: "Listen to him," and again we know that obedience is required of this One.

(The following questions are not meant to be exhaustive, but only as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers. For more on this genre see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  If the functions of the Word can be summarized as Law (You need Christ!), Gospel (Here is Christ.), or the Call to Obedience (Follow Christ.), then clearly this story is pure Gospel.  Here is Christ, the Transfigured One, the Son, the Beloved, the One who gently touches his disciples and says, "Get up and do not be afraid."  This story is an announcement of the Divine identity of the Christ, and given to us as pure gift.

2.  How does the Word not function in the text?  Although there is confusion and terror on the part of the disciples, this text does not really function as Law.  This text does not convict of sin or show us our need for Christ.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are the disciples.  We are those who are confused by the Lord's glory.  We are the ones who fall to the ground, cowering at the voice of God.  We are those who need to be touched by Christ and to be told, "Do not be afraid."

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  "Listen to him!" is definitely a call to obedience.  What this means is a further question.  Since the text begins by setting up the temporal context, "six days later", we might ask, "What was going on six days prior to this event?"  What we learn is that Jesus  is foretelling his death and resurrection and assuring his followers that "if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."  So, perhaps this is what we are called to listen to.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The whole event suggests several couplets:  cowering in fear/touched by Christ; confused about Christ/clear about Christ.

6.  Exegetical work:  Kurt Aland's Synopsis of the Four Gospels is often a great source of insight, as the stories of Jesus are put side-by-side in their original language, and differences between the four gospels shown clearly.  In this case we see that Matthew alone adds the detail that Jesus' "face shone like the sun."  This suggests a tie with Moses, seen in Exodus 34.  Matthew is also the only one to tell us that "when the disciples heard [the voice from heaven] they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe."  This also suggests a tie with Exodus 34.  Another interesting detail is Matthew's use of the Greek marker "idou" which is translated "behold" or "lo" or left untranslated.  This marker is in Matthew only, calling our attention, in verse 3, to the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and in verse 5 to the emergence of the bright cloud, and the sound of the voice.  It is as if Matthew is pointing us to these three verses and saying, "Look!  Look closely.  This is important!'  Another piece that can be seen from the original language is that the voice from the cloud uses the exact words used in 3:17 at the event of Jesus' baptism:  "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," except here the phrase is added, "Listen to him."  This tie to Jesus' baptism, another theophanic event, is also crucial to take note of.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Timothy Hoyer does an interesting analysis of this text using Peter's confusion regarding the Law and the Prophets as the starting point.  He shows how when we try to conflate the work of Christ with the work of the Law we are lost.  See the entire analysis archived under 2008 Gospel A at study.

Blessings on your proclamation!

No comments:

Post a Comment