2 March 2014

Matthew 17:1-9

“When they looked up they saw no-one except Jesus himself alone.” (v.8)


In all three years of the lectionary the Gospel passage appointed for today is the story of the Transfiguration. We follow Peter, James, and John up the high mountain where they witness a revelation of Jesus' glory. We are taken through a range of emotions from a sense of awe and wonder that it "is good for us to be here" (v. 4) to a fear that drives them to the ground with eyes closed as the cloud descends (verse 6) and the voice from heaven affirms Jesus as the Son of God. Then we walk back with them down the mountain and hear the curious instruction to be silent about what they have seen (verse 9) until after the Resurrection.

Set at this point in the year, the passage helps us to look back and forwards. We look back to the season of Epiphany which culminates in the celebration of Christ's Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17). The words "this is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased" (v. 5) are the same as those Matthew's Gospel recounts in the scene at the Jordan (Matthew 3:17). The figures of Moses and Elijah remind us that Jesus stands in a tradition of God's activity; the Baptisms by John (Matthew 3:1-6) recalled people to their covenant obligations and Jesus' receiving that Baptism places him in the community of all those who seek to live by the law and the prophets.

We look forward to Easter: the glory of the Transfiguration anticipates the Resurrection as the prohibition to the disciples makes clear. Many of us reading this account believe in the Resurrection; the descent of the cloud and the voice from heaven speak to us of the exaltation of the risen Christ: that he is the one (as he will tell his disciples on another mountain (Matthew 28:18)) to whom all authority is given. The mountain itself functions as a symbol of the union of heaven and earth which is achieved in the victory of Christ.

Between past and future we make our way through Lent. So the end of the vision speaks to us powerfully: the disciples look up and only Jesus is there. Matthew ends the sentence with the emphatic word "alone". Having seen Jesus in his full glory, we are now invited to see Jesus as he will suffer - terribly alone.

To Ponder

  • Some churches make changes to their services to mark Lent (eg by not having flowers or by not saying 'Alleluia'). Does your church? If so, do you find it helpful? Why? If not, would you value marking the season in such ways? Again, Why?
  • Recent New Testament scholarship has reminded us of the importance of Jesus' Jewishness. Why do you think we sometimes lose sight of the tradition in which Jesus stood?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..