Lectionary Year A
February 10, 2002
Matthew 17:1-9

Step V: Distillation

A. Summary of Salient Features

(JFC) The theological focal point is Jesus, Himself. The next most prominent highlight is what He says and what the voice from the cloud says. The whole notion of the transfiguration and the appearances of Jesus' face and garments all add to the point the story is trying to make on its hearers of and/or listeners to it. Also, Jesus' calling the event a vision might play a major part in the drama of this event. However, Kittel's TDNT seems to downplay the visionary characteristic in the word for vision (o[rama), by stating, "In the New Testament o[rama (always sing.) occurs outside Acts, only in Matt. 17:9. Here the verb in the par, Mk. 9:9; cf. Lk. 9:36 suggests 'what is seen,' even though the reference is to a vision, . . ." So, "vision" seems to be a less vital element here. Then, the other lesser important elements in this lection include the disciples Peter (including his suggestion, re: the temporary booths), James and John, perhaps in that order, and then Moses and Elijah, perhaps in that order and then the cloud and the mountain. The disciples' fear is certainly secondary here, especially in light of what Jesus tells them about it, i.e., not to fear. Some of their natural fear must be provoked by Jesus' passion predictions in previous passage(s). According to Robert H. Stein in Harper's Bible Dictionary, "What actually happened in Jesus' transfiguration has been understood in primarily two ways. The first understands it as a breaking through his true humanity of the true form (cf.. John 1:14); the second as a glimpse of the glory of the Son of God at his Parousia (II Peter1:16-18). Perhaps both are involved." Does this story tell of God's simultaneous transcendence and imminence? Perhaps it does.

B. Smoother Translation

(JFC) 1 And when six days had passed, Jesus took Peter and James and John his brother and He led them up to a high mountain with/for privacy. 2 And He was transformed before them, and His face shone like the sun, so that His garments became white/brilliant/shinning as the light. 3 And behold, was seen by them Moses and Elijah speaking with Him. 4 But answered/replied/responded Peter saying to Jesus; "Lord, it is so good for us to be here; if you wish/desire/want, I shall make here three tents/temporary shelters/tabernacles, one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah. 5 Yet as he was speaking, behold a cloud full of bright light overshadowed them, and behold a voice from the cloud erupted, saying, "This is My Son the Beloved, in whom I am pleased/take delight/take pleasure; hear/take heed/listen to Him." 6 And as they were hearing this, the disciples fell upon their faces and were very much afraid. 7 And Jesus came and touched them and said, "Raise up yourselves and do not fear/be afraid." 8 But raising up the ones of them seeing now saw no one they saw only Jesus Himself alone. 9 And coming down from the mountain Jesus commanded/ordered them saying, "Never tell of this vision until He, the Son of the Man, is raised from death." C. Hermeneutical Bridge

(JFC) e. e. cummings writes, "now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes open." Could that be at least part of what is happening at the Transfiguration?


It seems to me that Jesus was not transformed, after all He is the same yesterday, today and tommorrow; rather at that moment, the apostles saw him in a new light. What Peter had said previously as an intellectual statement, 'You are the Messiah,' they now saw to be a reality.

The following is used by permission from Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit by Merle G. Franke.

The Bible Class

      The weekly Bible class was past its scheduled closing time, but no one made any move to leave, even though the pastor had closed her books and ended the session with prayer. Some incident in the evening's session had opened a reservoir of questions about the way in which God speaks to people. Most of the post-session questions the pastor had heard a hundred times in her ministry.
      "Why doesn't God speak to people today, as he did to, say, Moses or Abraham or lots of those other folks in the Old Testament?" someone wanted to know. "I'll bet every generation of people asks that question," Pastor Olson mused to herself.
      But befoe she could respond, another question popped out from another class member. "Yeah, isn't there a story in one of the Gospels - I think it's Matthew - about Jesus and the three disciples who go up the mountain or hill or whatever it was. I don't remember the whole thing, but doesn't Matthew say they heard a voice? What was it the voice said?"
      Pastor Olson answered, "You remembered it all right. It was the Transfiguration story, and the voice said, 'This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.'"
      "Yeah, that's it," the questioner agreed. But he pushed on, half jokingly, "Why don't we hear God saying that today?"
      Again the pastor answered, this time with a slight smile, "Oh, I've said those words many times from the pulpit, 'Listen to Jesus.'"
      "Well, come on, pastor, that's not quite the same, is it?" the questioner replied.
      Pastor Olson said, "Perhaps not physically the same as hearing a voice from a cloud or a burning bush or whatever. But don't we believe that the message read from Scripture and preached from the pulpit is supposed to be God's Word?"
      Someone objected, "But that's really not the same - not as dramatic - as a voice..." he raised his arms in the air for emphasis, "coming out of the sky, so to speak, and... and ... giving us a message."
      Pastor Olson paused then asked, with just a bit of teasing in her voice, "Do you really think you would listen more attentively or obey more closely if some dismembered voice were to come out of the clouds and tell you what to do with your life?"
      Silence for a moment. Then, "Well... I don't know, but it sure would get our attention," someone offered with a chuckle.
      "True," she replied, "but after the initial attention-grabber, then what? I guess my point would be that we need to be careful so we don't appear to be telling God how to come to us and how to speak to us. That's God's prerogative."
      "So you think God is still speaking to us as he did to some of the people of the Bible?" someone asked as he began gathering up the coffee cups.
      "Speaking to us, yes," Pastor Olson replied, "but not in the same manner. Speaking, yes, loud and clear, most of the time. And still saying it is important for us to listen to his Son."

| Return to Gospel text listings | Return to Epistle text listings |
| Return to Old Testament listings | Return to Psalm listings |
| User response form |