26 February 2017

Matthew 17:1-9

“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” (vv. 2-3)

Psalm: Psalm 99


This is an interesting passage, and a challenging one to interpret and fit into the scheme of Christian worship. What are we to make of it, and how does it inform our understanding of the nature and person of Christ?

What is actually happening to Jesus in this passage? This is a man who is, we believe, both fully human and fully divine. Perhaps, then, in this mountain-top moment, his divinity is shining out, bursting through his human exterior. This is the way in which John Wesley seems to have understood it (in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament) and it has some appeal, especially if we are trying to imagine the human life which can contain the full glory of God. But isn't this precisely the mystery of the incarnation - that the humanity of Jesus, in some inexplicable way, meets the full divinity of God? We need, perhaps, to be careful that we are not seeing his humanity as some kind of shell or veil for his true, divine identity. Jesus is as fully human as he is fully divine. That is the paradox at the centre of the Gospels.

And perhaps it is precisely that paradox which holds the clue to the Transfiguration. Maybe this is one of the extraordinary consequences of this unique meeting of humanity and divinity. Where God is fully present in human life, there we should expect the unexpected. The Gospels are full of stories of the inexplicable - healings, miracles, resurrection. In Jesus' encounters with ordinary, everyday life (people, water, bread, fish, storms…), the ordinary is made extraordinary. And so it is with our everyday encounters with him now, in bread and wine, in prayer, in conversations and relationships.

Finally, perhaps the Transfiguration is in some way a model of human transformation. As we encounter God in the everyday, we should expect to be transformed by that encounter. The more Christ-like we become, the more God's glory will be revealed in and through us.

To Ponder

  • How did the disciples recognise Moses and Elijah? What do you think is the significance of their presence?
  • In verse 9, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone about the vision "until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead". Why do you think this is? What do you think they made of this instruction?
  • What do you think is the meaning and significance of this story? Why do the Gospel writers include it? What impact do you think they intend it to have on our life and faith?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.