A Light to the Nations

Just Who is Transformed?
Psalm 99; Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43

Jesus, like Moses before him (as told in the Exodus passage), has the ultimate mountaintop experience. He goes up the mountain to pray, and there he meets God. That, of course, is the purpose of prayer. But for Jesus, the experience visibly transformed him. In Matthew’s (17:1-8) and Mark’s (9:2-8) versions of this encounter, Jesus is "metamorphosed"; Luke uses the much less colorful phrase "was altered."

We know that prayer is transforming. But who is really transformed here? Jesus has led for the most part a humble, ordinary human life. At the same time, he is the center of the divine event toward which all creation has been moving, and by which all creation is given the gift of salvation. His closest friends and disciples have heard hints of this extraordinary mystery—just a few verses before (9:22), Jesus foretold his death and resurrection—but this is their first glimpse of resurrection glory.

Peter’s reaction to this miracle, in typical salt-of-the-earth Peter fashion, is very practical: He wants to set up tents for Jesus and the distinguished visitors. But Peter just doesn’t get it—he did not know what he was saying, as Luke says. Some interpreters take this as a warning about the risk of trying to institutionalize a mountaintop experience, of trying to control and contain the mystical. Hiding away in tents, you might just miss the transfiguration!

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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