Thursday, February 23, 2017
Identify, Evaluate, Instruct
In Matthew's telling of the Transfiguration, God speaks from the cloud and says, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When Peter, James, and John hear the voice, they cower in fear, trembling on the ground. I supposed I'd do the same if God's voice thundered at me. But I wonder if we might shake the fear off and take another look at what God says.
God's statement comes in three parts. First, he identifies Jesus: "This is my Son, the Beloved." That's a powerful identification. When God claims you as his own Son, when he calls you the Beloved, you're set apart in a pretty significant way. When God labels him "the Beloved" that means that God himself loves him--that his identity is as the Beloved one (note the capital "B"). And that's where the significance of this moment begins to break through--when God claims Jesus as his Son, the Beloved.
The second part of God's statement is an evaluation: "with him I am well pleased." I have four children, and, regardless of what they do, I love them. They will always be my beloved children. But I won't always be well pleased with them. That's something else. That's a statement of evaluation that Jesus and his earthly ministry are what God would want them to be. It's a big "thumbs-up" from God to Jesus, and the implications of that thumbs-up come in the third part.
Lastly, God gives those who hear him some instruction: "listen to him!" Maybe that goes without saying--that we're supposed to listen to Jesus, God's Son, with whom God is well pleased--but I think there's a connection between the three. I think we're supposed to reach the "listen to him" and think "of course that's what we're supposed to do...but are we?" If Jesus is God's Son, the Beloved, and if God is well pleased with Jesus, aren't we supposed to listen to him? Aren't we supposed to take him seriously?
If I send my oldest child upstairs to tell one of her brothers or sister to do something, the extent to which that sibling will listen to the oldest depends in part upon the extent to which they understand her to be the voice behind the messenger. If they are clear that she is asking them to do what I am asking them to do, then they know that there will be consequences if they ignore her. What about Jesus?
Although we've leapt from the Sermon on the Mount to the mount of Transfiguration, the words Jesus has taught us--blessed are poor in spirit, turn the other cheek, love your enemies--are the content to which God is saying, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!" We need to take Jesus seriously because Jesus is showing us what God's vision for the world is. When heaven and earth meet, we get brilliant light shining through the face and skin of Jesus. But, after we walk down the mountain, will we forget who it is that is talking to us and who it is that he represents?