Bible Study: Last Sunday After Epiphany (A)

March 2, 2014

Charlotte LaForest, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Matthew 17:1-2)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 24:12-18Psalm 22 Peter 1:16-21Matthew 17:1-9

Exodus 24:12-18

Theophany: the technical term for a visible manifestation of God. The clouds and fire in this passage from Exodus are congruent with my imagination of what this kind of encounter might be like. Perhaps my imagination was shaped by previous readings of this passage. Perhaps it was shaped by numerous childhood viewings of the movie “Ghostbusters,” in which the mountain is replaced by a New York City apartment building, and a deity named Gozer appears, surrounded by cloud and flame. In any case, this kind of direct encounter with God seems as though it might be a bit terrifying.

But Moses kept going. He kept climbing further up the mountain, waiting six days in the cloud, climbing higher, and then remaining there, high on the mountain. Moses encountered something on the mountain that made him want to stay for 70 days, over two months’ time! What do you think he was thinking and feeling during that time?

Moses had to keep climbing higher to get closer to God. Are there times in your life that the ways in which God is calling you may seem terrifying but are actually drawing you closer to Him?

Psalm 2

Drama unfolds in this brief psalm, shifting rapidly between perspectives in only a handful of verses. The psalm opens with the psalmist’s questions about the persecution of the faithful. We then shift to the wicked rulers and eavesdrop as they conspire to cast off the people of God. Just as soon as we’ve heard them plot and plan, the psalmist races heavenward and we hear God laugh at the plans of the wicked. God warns the wicked rulers, reminding them that God alone is sovereign.

The psalmist then communicates the message to God’s people, reassurance of God’s faithfulness and the appeal to trust in God to serve justice and defeat the enemies. The kings are reminded again to rule with fairness and wisdom, and called to submit with fear and trembling to the God capable of powerful execution of divine justice. Then the psalm ends on a cheerful note, rejoicing for those who take refuge in God!

This psalm emphasizes trust in God to enact justice and retribution. Do you ever find yourself struggling to trust God for this, wishing to take revenge for yourself?

The psalm concludes with a call for God’s people to rejoice because they have taken refuge in God. Are you able to trust God enough to rejoice, even during times of persecution?

2 Peter 1:16-21

Just like the readers of this letter, we have not been blessed with direct experience of God’s voice, coming audibly from the heavens, identifying Jesus as Son, Beloved. We also have to trust the witness of those who were present with Jesus, passed down through scripture and the traditions of the church. They serve for us as lamps, light for what would otherwise be dark and murky understanding of the person of Christ. Peter gives us hope, however, that at some point the day will dawn, the morning star will rise in our hearts, and we will be able to encounter the light for ourselves.

For now, though, we rely on witnesses. Peter reminds us in the closing lines of this passage that true witnesses, prophets who reveal God’s truth, are not speaking because of their own motivations or desires, but because they have been moved by the Holy Spirit to do so.

Though we may not have encountered God in the same way the Peter did, we can still serve as witnesses for each other. Are there people in your life who have shown you the light of Christ? How have you been a light to others?

Matthew 17:1-9

You may recognize some elements of this story from our Old Testament lesson for today: mountain, clouds, a voice from heaven. Just like the encounter that Moses had upon Mount Sinai, Peter, James and John experience many of the classic elements of an encounter with God.

Yet something is different about this theophany, this encounter. There is more than just the voice and the clouds upon the mountain that day. Peter, James and John see in the dazzling, transfigured Jesus that God is in their midst, has been among them all this time. They see Moses and Elijah, their forefathers, the bearers of their Jewish tradition. It’s no surprise that they want to build tents and say for a while! Moses spent almost two months in God’s presence, but Jesus calls the disciples to get up, to let go of their fear, and to head down the mountain.

The disciples return to the world with a new knowledge of who Jesus is, even though they are instructed not to tell anyone until after Jesus is raised. They may not yet be able to tell the story, but it will shape how they act, how they go about daily life. How could it not?

How have you encountered God? Have you ever wished you could just linger in those holy moments?

Jesus calls us back down the mountain and into the world. How will your encounters with God shape the way you live your life?

Comments

  1. John Fredenburgh says:

    I found your study of the psalms most helpful. Transfiguration has always been profoundly a mystery to me.

  2. Cathleen Lee says:

    I am at a loss for words. My beloved daughter, you have captured the essence of these lessons and posed to your readers questions that will bring new thought, new life and new faith. God is indeed moving through your path to the priesthood in a big and prophetic way. I am humbled by your blessing from Him, that blesses me also. I love you, Mommy

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