Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Sunday next before Lent
Text: Mark 9. 2-9 "From Mountain top to valley "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Do you know of anyone who has had the intense experience of feeling that they were in the presence of God? Were they alone or did others share the experience with them?
A Window on the Text
This “Transfiguration” episode occurs at a very dangerous time for Jesus. Criticism is mounting from the authorities. They are challenged by his words and actions. Plots, betrayal, arrest and death – often a prophet’s destiny - are looming large. The disciples are constantly failing to understand the significance of Jesus and cannot yet cope with the reality of where events will lead. Mark’s own community was facing persecution with Emperor Nero blaming the Christians for the fire of Rome.
Jesus retreats to the mountain-top with his close friends; Peter, James and John. Here he receives affirmation and encouragement from Moses and Elijah, who not only represent the Law and the Prophets but are themselves witnesses through mountain-top experiences of God’s truth. Then the credibility of his teachings is confirmed by the words spoken by God, echoing the declaration of him being God’s son at his baptism. Here he gains strength to face the next testing phase of his mission, leading to Jerusalem and crucifixion.
Poor Peter gets it wrong again – he wants to hold onto this glimpse of heaven, to prolong the experience by building shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. However trying to do so is proved futile, and the voice of God commands Peter and the others to LISTEN to Jesus, not to try to hold him in one place.
The significance of this strange gathering of past heroes and future apostles will only be fully understood after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is more than a prophet challenging the system, even more than the Messiah who cannot yet be publicly named. He has been honoured with the name of God’s own Son in the presence of these special witnesses.
Responding as a community
- Have you experienced God speaking to you at difficult times? Where was your mountain-top? Were you alone or did others share those experiences?
- Do we understand our own role as witnesses in the footsteps of Peter, James and John? And how can we be an encouragement to those who are seeking the right path, as Moses and Elijah were for Jesus?
- In what ways does your Christian community listen to Jesus? In what ways has your community tried to hold onto particular mountain top moments on its journey? How do we balance listening to Jesus and responding to his words with the desire to build our own shelters and pin Jesus down in a particular time and place?
- It is said that we often get it wrong, ‘through fear and ignorance’. How do or should you and your community deal with such moments?
- Light a candle and spend some time naming those in your own ‘cloud of witnesses’ who have encouraged you on your Christian journey. You may wish to include both contemporary and historical figures – personal, local, national or global. It may be helpful to imagine yourself in dialogue with them as you seek their counsel.
- Pray that in the way that Jesus’ story was a continuation of that of Moses and Elijah so may your own ongoing story be joined to the Gospel, and be an inspiration to others.
- Pray for help to listen together for what God wants for your own community, and that you may all find your part in it. Pray that memorials don’t take over!
- You may find this prayer from Staretz Silovan of Mount Athos in Greece helpful:
“O Lord, grant people your grace, that in peace and love they come to know and love you, and say like the apostles on Mount Tabor: Master, it is good for us to be with you.”
Moses and Elijah were not only the great heroes of the Law and Prophets; they both had mysterious ends to their lives. Moses’ burial place was not known, and Elijah is described as ascending directly to heaven. They also both had experiences of meeting God ‘face to face’ on a mountain top. Moses was there after being rejected by his own people and Elijah was fleeing from the authorities. Interestingly, Moses was succeeded by Joshua, and Elijah by Elisha – both these names are Hebrew versions of the Greek name Jesus.
- White robes were seen as a symbol of martyrdom. Mark also introduces a young man in white robes to the tomb of Jesus. The earliest Resurrection narrative in Mark’s Gospel has no accounts of the disciples meeting the risen Christ. The Transfiguration scene in Mark has been seen by some as a precursor or replacement to those mentioned in the other Gospels.
- A quote from David Blatherwick: I suspect that Mark’s story of the Transfiguration (9. 2-8) is less concerned with God’s revelation of the divine glory Jesus had before he was born, or will have at the end of time, than with the transformation (metamorphosis) that takes place following his willing acceptance of the role God has prepared for him (8.31-33). From Mark: Gospel of Action. Personal and Community Responses edited by John Vincent. SPCK 2006.
- See William Loader comments at http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MkTransfig.htm.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion