Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Sunday next before Lent
Matthew 17.1-9 :
Living by Vision
Begin by using the Method as outlined
Have you ever had a ‘mountain top’ experience, either alone or together with others?
Have there been times when God’s ‘voice’ was very clear to you?
Did these experiences have a lasting impact on your life and, if so, in what way?
Reflection on the text
The Season of Epiphany begins with Jesus' Baptism in a river valley and ends with his Transfiguration on a mountain top.
Matthew writes of mountains or lofty places on several occasions (e.g. 5v1; 14v23; 15v29; 28v16). These are associated with important times of Jesus’ teaching, healing, praying and encounter. The fact that Satan took him to the top of a mountain to show him the kingdoms of this world (4v8-9) suggests that these experiences may carry an element of temptation.
Not all the followers of Jesus were present. Nine had to rely on the account of the three who were there. Frustratingly, mountaintop experiences almost always seem to be limited to a few.
The disciples’ response is very human, but Jesus is disappointed: they want to erect lasting monuments (v4); he hopes they will see the deeper meaning. Later, the same three will be asked by Jesus to come and watch and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane (26v23) but can’t stay awake. If these are the pick of the bunch, then there’s hope for us too!
The Greek word for transfiguration also means ‘metamorphosis’ - a total transformation in appearance or nature, like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. St Paul applies the word to the collective transformation in the community of disciples through God’s Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 3v18 and Romans 12v2). The focus of transformation is not solely on Jesus in this gospel moment.
Matthew connects this event with Jesus’ baptism, where we hear exactly the same words (3v17 and 17v5). At his baptism we learn of Jesus’ commitment to fulfil all justice (3v15). Here on the mountain we learn where that commitment will eventually lead - to the cross (v12).
‘Keep on listening to him’ is the added heavenly command (v5). That is, listen carefully to everything that Jesus says and does. This is the mandate for each and every community and person of faith.
"Transfiguration is living by vision: standing foursquare in the midst of a broken, tortured, oppressed, starving, dehumanizing reality, yet seeing the invisible, calling to it to come, behaving as if it is on the way, sustained by elements of it that have come already, within and among us. In those moments when people are healed, transformed, freed from addictions, obsessions, destructiveness, self worship or when groups or communities or even, rarely, whole nations glimpse the light of the transcendent in their midst, the New Creation has come upon us. The world for one brief moment is transfigured. The beyond shines in our midst -- on the way to the cross."
Some questions for discussion together
- God wants Peter to listen. Peter wants to build monuments. Does this reflect your experience in the life of your church community, or your own personal life? Share some examples of failure to listen and of misplaced energy.
- Think of times in the life of your church community when fear has played out instead of faith. How is fear, anxiety, cowardice and associated paralysis overcome?
- Who are the fearful and anxious in your neighbourhood or town? In what ways does your church community offer them a healing and life-giving touch? Are there other ways in which this ministry might be offered?
- In what ways do you and your church community need to be transformed?
Invite someone to read Psalm 19 verses 1 to 6 and spend some moments in silent reflection on the sheer glory of God witnessed in Creation.
Ask everyone to note on a piece of paper that area of their lives and/or the life of the church or wider community which most needs to be transformed. Place these papers on the tray in the centre of the group, as an act of prayer for transformation. People may wish to do so in silence or read their petition aloud. Turn out the lights, perhaps, for a minute or two and shine a torch on the tray of papers to symbolise the transforming power of Christ.
Finally, in silence or aloud, pray for those you know of who are anxious or fearful.
Conclude by joining hands and saying the Grace together.
More background information
- In the Old Testament, mountains were thought of not only as being closer to heaven but also as places of revelation (Sinai), hope and instruction (Zion).
- Jewish law required three male witnesses to testify in court
- Moses represents the Law, and Elijah the Prophets. The reference to six days is consistent with Moses’ trip up Mount Sinai (see Exodus 24:15-16). Matthew is intent on drawing a comparison between these great figures of faith and Jesus. Jesus embodies but also goes way beyond both the Law and the Prophets.
- Glory is the reflection of God from within a person and seen particularly when he or she seeks justice, works for peace and suffers for what is right.
For further rich study of the theme of transformation we highly recommend Peter Price’s DVD Changing Lives for Good. Go to http://www.bathandwells.org.uk/changing_lives/toolkit/index.php or to http://www.changinglives.org.uk/videoclips.php to view video clips.