Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Sunday before Lent
Text: Luke 9.28-36 (37-43a) "A mountain-top experience "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Have you ever had a ‘mountaintop experience’? Did it lead to any new area of work or service?
Do you have a particular place to meet with God, when important decisions have to be made?
A Window on the Text
In many cultures mountains are regarded as holy, the habitation of gods. Moses meets God on Mt Sinai; Elijah encounters God on Mt Carmel; Jesus does the same on this mountain near Caesarea Philippi. Moses and Elijah needed encouragement to go back to face opposition, and complete the tasks God had given them. For Jesus too this is a turning point - the time to begin the completion of his mission. Must he now confront his enemies, or is there some other way? From here he must set his face to go to Jerusalem. On the mountain his identity and role is once again affirmed in the presence of witnesses, as the beloved Son of the Father.
It is hard to know exactly what happened at the ‘transfiguration’, but it appears to have been a privileged revelation for Jesus and his three closest disciples: a glimpse of the glory of God in Christ. Moses and Elijah are seen speaking with Jesus and as the cloud envelops them, a voice is heard: ‘This is my Son whom I love - listen to Him’, (reminiscent of the voice at his baptism.)
Moses and Elijah had spoken about his coming ‘departure’ (Greek ‘exodus’) – from Jerusalem. Uniquely in the gospels, Luke chooses this word to link the great act of ‘salvation’ of the Old Testament with Jesus, who will achieve an even greater ‘liberation’ than Moses, in the new ‘exodus’ (v31) (see ‘Going deeper’) that will come through his death and resurrection.
Peter, impetuous as usual, wants to capture the moment and to hold on to the experience (v33). Most people climbing mountains do so because they enjoy the experience, but know they cannot remain at the summit for too long. The exhilaration of reaching the top always has to give way to the often more difficult descent back to base. Such spiritual ‘experiences’ are a gift and, when given, can be an encouragement to persevere in a task, or before an important decision or a new stage in our lives.
Verses 37-43a: The failure of the disciples to heal the demon-possessed boy is a warning that even mountain-top experiences are no guarantee that we will be able to minister in the power of God.
Responding as a community
- What new challenge is your community preparing to meet? What is the next step you must take (but perhaps have avoided)?
- Are you suspicious of ‘religious experiences’? How is a balance to be maintained between welcoming such experiences when they come and getting on with everyday life?
- Is there a ‘sacred space’ in your local community? If not, how and where could you to create one?
- What temptations are there in a religion based on religious ‘experience’?
- Where do you find encouragement when hard decisions have to be made?
(10-15 minutes, using a map, bible and candle, and tea lights)
- On a small low table, place 3 symbols:-
1st a MAP of your area: where we are, ‘Our Reality’, the lives of all who live in our community, and with whom we are involved.
2nd a BIBLE, on the Map: the story of the community of faith; the story of Jesus and the early Christian communities.
3rd a CANDLE, by the map and bible: the symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who links our present reality with that of the world of the bible.
- Light the candle, with the words: ‘The Lord is here’. Response: The Spirit is with us.
- Read again the account of the Transfiguration, Luke 9.28-36.
- Thank God (in silence) for milestones in your life that have been encouragement to persevere. Light a tea light for each one and place it on the table.
Coordinator: Let us praise the Lord for each special occasion. We pray for God’s grace and power to continue our journey. Amen.
The Grace (together)
In the Old Testament, the presence of the cloud signifies the presence of God. During the Exodus, Moses and the people of Israel follow the cloud in the wilderness of Sinai.
Exodus 13.21,22. ‘The Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way by day and a pillar of fire by night to give them light.’ (see also Exodus 14.19,24; 33.9-10)
Numbers 9.15-22. The ‘cloud’ covered the tabernacle (the Tent of the Testimony).
Exodus 19.20. Moses meets God on Mt Sinai and the mountain is covered in a cloud; Moses is given the Torah - the Law.
Acts 1.9. At the Ascension, Luke notes that Jesus is ‘taken up and a cloud hid him from their sight’, meaning that he was received back into God’s presence.
- The Voice
At Jesus’ baptism, (at the inauguration of his public ministry: see Luke 3.22, cf Mark 1.10-11) the voice accompanying the descent of the Spirit, appears to be an echo of Isaiah 42.1 - ‘here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations’, and Psalm 2.7 - ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’. Jesus is designated at the start of his public ministry as the Spirit-anointed servant of Yahweh who is to bring justice to the nations.
At the ‘transfiguration’ the voice again designates Jesus at the start of the final stage of his ministry in similar terms - ‘This is my Son whom I have chosen; listen to him’ (Luke 9.10).
We speak of death as ‘a ‘departure’ but here in the Greek it is ‘exodos’. Luke is using exodus terminology, an echo of the great act of deliverance or liberation into the promised land of the Old Testament under Moses, to describe the new and greater act of ‘deliverance’ that Jesus will accomplish in Jerusalem on the cross, this time ‘from slavery to sin and death to freedom and to life in the kingdom of God’. Jesus is the new Moses.
- Peter and John - witnesses to the glory (shekinah)
The event made a strong impression on both Peter and John if the traditional authorship of the gospel and 2 Peter are accepted. The circumstances of the event in any case seem to be well known at the time of writing of 2 Peter that appears to give authenticity to the document, even if it was not written by Peter. It seems that John is referring to the transfiguration event when he writes, ‘we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father’ (John 1.14). The words attributed to Peter in 2 Peter 1.17: ‘we were eyewitnesses of his majesty, for he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the majestic glory saying ‘This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain’ (2 Peter 1.16-18)