Transfiguration–what you missed in Sunday School

__“I must’ve skipped Sunday School”
the day they studied Mark 9:2-9__

-- _Notes on Mark’s narrative style:_ The Greek prose, lively and direct, is in the informal language of ordinary First-century men and women around the eastern Mediterranean. Its descriptions are immediate and simple, somewhat awkward, repetitively employing favorite words and expressions. Characterizations are sketchy. Mark is telling stories in a way that reflects an early oral preaching environment. Luke and Matthew, both using much of Mark, differ. They take pains to “clean up” and embellish Mark. This is an adaptation of part of page 11 in The Complete Gospels, Polebridge Press, 1994.

--_The “Messianic Secret”:_ Mark, Matthew and Luke all suggest that Jesus’ closest followers gradually learned that Jesus was the Christ (which is the Greek form of Messiah). In Mark 9:9-10, as in many other gospel texts, Peter, James and John are told not to tell anyone about the Transfiguration. They must wonder for themselves what in the world has just happened, and also why in the world it should be kept secret.

Recovering from their loss of composure as the vision unfolded, now they are made to wonder if Jesus expects not only to die but to be raised—their confusion is doubled. A question for us: Is this writing reliable as “history” in any modern sense? Only evangelicals teach that the writers were eye-witnesses. Much of the Bible is imaginative.

Need we be troubled by a “Messianic Secret”? Confusion is lessened once one realizes that from Easter onward, the big question was … What did Jesus know, and when did he know it, about his own death and resurrection?
Scholars figure that Jesus had a leader’s vision and self-confidence; he may well have thought himself to have been “anointed” as were earlier Jewish prophets. Mainstream and progressive scholars believe that, before Easter, Jesus was fully human; he thus could not have “known” the future in the way that someone fully divine could have.

But Paul, teaching and writing two decades after Easter, and the gospel writers 20 to 50 years after that, wanted people to believe Jesus was uniquely superhuman—if not really human at all. From all the welter of oral stories circulating in the First century, they chose (and embellished?) those that seemed to say that from the very first, Jesus had been uniquely divine and that he knew it.

Most progressive scholars conclude that Jesus was human like us, and point to Paul’s belief that Jesus’ victory over death can be ours, too. If he really spoke about “being raised,” there is plenty of reason to think Jesus meant that we could follow into that future, too. _How far do you think Jesus wants us to follow him? Into eternal life?_

--_Did you ever wonder how Jewish readers_ might feel about ‘Theophanes the Greek’—the way he painted his vision of the disciples’ vision at Transfiguration?

We can easily look right past an image of two of the most revered of Jewish leaders, each looking ordinary, paying tribute to a radiant pre-figuring of Jesus as Christ.

We might fail to notice the golden orb signifying holiness—lacking from the prophets. But how would 14th century Jews have seen this painting? As a put-down, as though Jesus is rendering obsolete the validity of their ancient faith?

How might Jews today feel about this, and a host of other images and words that confront them in a culture heavily influenced by Christianity? How do you feel about how they may feel?

It’s easy to forget, or not even know about, public declarations by Pope John Paul II and by one of the United Church of Christ’s general minister/presidents, that in no way does Christianity supersede the truth of Jewish faith. If you remember this, especially if you agree with it!, congratulations … you’ve learned what you missed in SundaySchool.

_Notes by Bob Cramer, to accompany the communion meditation, Feb. 26, 2006._