Bible Study for the Last Sunday After the Epiphany (B) – February 19, 2012

Discussion Leader: Joy Arroyo, General Theological Seminary

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” (Mark 9:2-5)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

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2 Kings 2:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
2 Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.
3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

4 Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho.
5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’

6 Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on.
7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’
10 He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’
11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.
12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Joy Arroyo:

In 1 Kings 19, Elisha leaves his home and his fields to become the servant of Elijah. This story in 2 Kings describes Elijah being taken up to heaven and Elisha’s reaction to his master’s departure. The emotional tone of this passage is heightened through repetition: three times Elijah tries to keep Elisha from continuing with him (vs. 2, 4, 6), and three times Elisha responds that he will not leave him while he is still alive. Twice, a group of prophets tells Elisha that his master will leave him that day (vs. 3, 5), and twice Elisha tells them to be quiet. In verse 12, we see that Elisha views Elijah like a father, which explains why he feels such profound grief at his parting.

Why do you think the author highlights the emotional tone of the relationship between Elisha and Elijah? Why is this relationship important?

Why do you think that Elijah grants Elisha’s request in vs. 10 only on the condition that he sees him taken away?

Did you find anything curious or intriguing that jumped out to you in this passage? What is it, and why did it stand out to you?

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Psalm 50:1-6 (Book of Common Prayer, p. 654)

1 The LORD, the God of gods, has spoken;
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty,
God reveals himself in glory.

3 Our God will come and will not keep silence;
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.

4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above
to witness the judgment of his people.

5 “Gather before me my loyal followers,
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice.”

6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause;
for God himself is judge.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Joy Arroyo:

As poetry, psalms are often best read aloud. Take a moment to read through these verses aloud. Verses 1, 3, and 4-5 allude to the fact of God speaking. How does the psalmist highlight the power of God’s voice?

Read the psalm aloud a second time. What words or images stand out to you? Pick one phrase, word, or image, and take a few moments to meditate on it.

Read it aloud a third time. Is there a prayer arising in you from this psalm? Take a moment to offer this prayer to God.

Read it aloud a fourth time. Spend some time in silence listening for God’s voice. Is God calling you to do or be something?

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2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (New Revised Standard Version)

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
6 For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Joy Arroyo:

Paul uses light and darkness as metaphors for understanding and ignorance of the gospel of Christ. The image of a veil is also used, which Paul uses in the previous chapter, verses 12-18. A veil keeps someone both from seeing clearly and from being seen clearly. But when the veil is removed, the face is revealed. In the same way, when God turns on the lights of knowledge in the heart, God’s glory is revealed “in the face of Jesus Christ” (vs. 6).

What explanation does Paul give for why some people do not accept the gospel? What reactions do you have to his explanation?

In this passage, Paul connects light with knowledge (vs. 6). This is similar to the cartoon image of the light bulb turning on when someone has an idea. What do you think of this image? Is it helpful? Have you ever had a “light bulb” moment regarding Jesus?

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Mark 9:2-9 (New Revised Standard Version)

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,
3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’
6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Joy Arroyo:

Peter, James, and John witness Jesus transformed: his clothing becomes “dazzling white” (vs. 3) and he talks with two famous figures from Israelite history, Moses and Elijah. The Transfiguration is a well-known gospel story, one that Christians sometimes hear so often, it is easy to read through quickly with no new insights. Yet, after you read Mark 9:2-9, look back over the other Bible readings for today.

The 2 Kings passage describes Elijah’s ascension to heaven. What reasons can you think of for Elijah reappearing here?

Compare Mark 9:7 with Psalm 50:1-3. How is God’s glory revealed and described in the Psalm? What images are used? Are there any similar images and descriptions in Mark?

Paul compares the knowledge of God’s glory in Christ to light. How are the concepts of light and glory used in this Mark passage?

Take a moment to be silent in God’s presence. I invite you to offer to God your thoughts and feelings, and then spend a few moments listening to God or simply being in God’s presence.

Comments

  1. COMMENTS FROM THE RCL BIBLE STUDY ARCHIVES

    Ben Maimon, February 19, 2009:
    (2 Kings 2:1-12) The succession of Elisha to the status of Elija is legitimized by the foreknowlege of the mentors departure, and by the change of the mantle from a garment to an instument of power like Aaron’s rod. The chariots and horsemen of Israel refer to the miraculous defeat of the Syrian army by the sound in the night of chariots and horsemen which is fortold by Elisha in 2 Kings7:6. That the chariot was firey refers to Elijah calling down fire on the emmisarries of Ahab’s son. That he addressed Elijah as “My Father” simply confirms that this has been a term of address to a man of religion from earliest times (!). That Elijah and Moses are related to the messiah is written in Malachi 4:5, the last two verses of the Old Testament.

    Mark Harbour, February 2009:
    What does the word commitment mean to you? How should it affect the daily life decisions you make?

    (2 Kings 2: 1 – 12) What are the important elements of commitment (such as Elisha to Elijah)? How does being with someone in the last days of their life provide a unique opportunity to prove your understanding of and commitment to them?

    (2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 6) What do you think Paul means in describing the “god of this world”? Perhaps money….or pleasures that distract us from important things? What steps can we take to ensure that our view of the gospel is direct (i.e. not through a veil)?

    (Mark 9: 2-9) Why do you think Peter wanted to build dwellings? To memorialize the event? Show homage? How would taking such action distract from the meaning of the event? What does dazzling white convey? Perhaps a metaphor for illumination, clarity of thought?

    Two themes emerge to me from today’s readings. One is the question of how open we are to receiving and evaluating life’s messages (including our response) and the related concept of commitment.

    Life continually provides messages to all of us. How we respond in translating those messages or experiences into meaning is a fundamental component of the process by which we grow – especially spiritually. Thus, it is important to work at improving our skill in this regard.

    I suspect we have all heard the admonition that hearing is not the same as listening – in that just because we hear something does not mean that we understand it. In a sense, to understand something, we need appropriate perspective to frame the significance of the message (perhaps time to reflect on it also). Such perspective of life and building a moral framework takes time, thought, and experience.

    In the gospel, Peter sees the transfigured Jesus along with Elijah and Moses – and does what he thinks is the right thing….to memorialize their presence. If I might be so bold as to paraphrase God’s response to Peter and the others, “Listen up doofus, we don’t need no stinking buildings….we need you to understand Jesus’ relationship to me, and live your commitment to him.” (in traditional Italian families, I suspect this phrase would be accompanied by a whack to the back of the head – to drive the point home)

    Paul’s message to the Corinthians has some of this in saying think clearly about the messages you receive from the Gospel (i.e., remove the “veil” of earthy distractions – reflect and receive the illumination of clarity about your relationship with God – and live your commitment to it.)

    May we all take the time to reflect on our relationships with God and those close to us, realize the significance of them, and reinforce the value of them in the decisions and actions we take in response.

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