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

Matthew 17:1-9 Sunday 2 March 2014


In all three years of the lectionary the Gospel passageappointed for today is the story of the Transfiguration. We followPeter, James, and John up the high mountain where they witness arevelation of Jesus' glory. We are taken through a range ofemotions from a sense of awe and wonder that it "is good for us tobe here" (v. 4) to a fear that drives them to the ground with eyesclosed as the cloud descends (verse 6) and the voice from heavenaffirms Jesus as the Son of God. Then we walk back with them downthe mountain and hear the curious instruction to be silent aboutwhat they have seen (verse 9) until after the Resurrection.

Set at this point in the year, the passage helps us to look backand forwards. We look back to the season of Epiphany whichculminates 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 asthose Matthew's Gospel recounts in the scene at the Jordan (Matthew 3:17). The figures of Moses and Elijahremind us that Jesus stands in a tradition of God's activity; theBaptisms by John (Matthew 3:1-6) recalled people to theircovenant obligations and Jesus' receiving that Baptism places himin the community of all those who seek to live by the law and theprophets.

We look forward to Easter: the glory of the Transfigurationanticipates the Resurrection as the prohibition to the disciplesmakes clear. Many of us reading this account believe in theResurrection; the descent of the cloud and the voice from heavenspeak to us of the exaltation of the risen Christ: that he is theone (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 heavenand earth which is achieved in the victory of Christ.

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

To Ponder

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

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