Metamorphosis (The Transfiguration of Our Lord)

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Back a few months ago, I led a “Theology on Tap” discussion called “words you didn’t think were in the Bible.”  I did that because there are indeed a number of words that occur in the Bible, which many people don’t realize are there because of the way they’ve been translated.

One of those words is a word that most of us are probably familiar with from high school biology – it’s the word “metamorphosis”.  In high school biology, that word was used to describe how an organism undergoes a transformation into a new shape.  The classic example of this is how a caterpillar forms a cocoon and becomes a butterfly.

The word “metamorphosis” is actually a Greek word which describes this transformation.  And “metamorphosis” is exactly the word which the Gospel writers use to describe what happens to Jesus on the mountaintop with Peter, James and John.  Jesus was literally “metamorphosized before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

It was quite a metamorphosis! They had never seen anything like this with Jesus before.  And probably, they didn’t ever again.  But it clearly made an impression on those disciples. In fact, it’s one of the few incidents from the life of Jesus (other than his death and resurrection) that gets recounted outside of the Gospels, as it is in today’s reading from Second Peter.

And often, that’s how we read this story as well.  Jesus’ metamorphosis is pretty cool! His face shines like Moses’ face did when Moses saw God.  His clothes are dazzling white, like the clothing of angels.  And of course, there’s the voice from heaven that bears witness to who Jesus really is.

But the voice isn’t for Jesus.  And for that matter, neither is his metamorphosis.  Jesus knows who he is.  Jesus knows whose he is.  And Jesus needs neither the show nor the voice.

It’s the disciples who need those things.  And that’s because the real point of this story is not the metamorphosis of Jesus.  Instead, it’s about the transformation of the disciples into new people – people who follow Jesus and can be witnesses to the living presence of Jesus in their lives.

But that metamorphosis doesn’t take place in an instant on a mountaintop.  It happens gradually through the journey of following Jesus.  There were indeed a few “mountaintop” experiences that some of the disciples sometimes had with Jesus.  But by and large, the metamorphosis of the disciples’ lives happened gradually – like the caterpillar in the cocoon – as the disciples followed Jesus to the cross and the empty tomb.

Beginning with that vision on the mountain, Peter, James and John and the other disciples began a journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.  And that journey was transformative.

And we read this story every year on the Sunday before Lent begins.  Lent is often described as a journey to Easter.  And for us too, this journey is supposed to be a time of special focus in following Jesus so that through our journey with Jesus, we can be changed and transformed.

Like those first disciples, Jesus loves us and calls us just as we are.  But Jesus doesn’t want to leave us like trembling people on the ground.  Instead, he seeks to transform us – to call us to metamorphosis – so that we can live more fully as children of God.

And as with those first disciples, the metamorphosis that Jesus is calling us to is about the transformation of our:

  • Vision – the “metamorphosis” of Jesus didn’t initially seem to scare Peter, James and John.  And when Moses and Elijah show up, they seem to think this is really cool! They figure they’ve finally arrived at a place where they can sit tight and bask in God’s glory!  So they offer to build booths, and stay here forever.  Jesus, on the other hand, will have none of it. This is the beginning of the journey, not the end.  And it’s a reminder to us that whenever we think we’ve got God just where we want God to be and are ready to settle into things just as they are, Jesus is always working to transform our vision so that we look to what’s ahead, and to the next things that God is calling us to do and to be…
  • Hearts – the thing that finally scares Peter, James and John is the voice from heaven.  That may seem strange to us, but in the Bible, whenever God reveals himself (even through an angel) the most common reaction is fear.  And fear paralyzes. And while we may read this and think, “I wouldn’t be scared of God’s voice”, there are plenty of things that do scare us in this world.  There are plenty of things that paralyze us.  There are plenty of things that make us cover our eyes and just hope it all goes away.  Jesus’ response to the first disciples and to us is the same – “get up, and don’t be afraid”.  And what really makes the disciples able to do that is that they feel Jesus’ touch and they see Jesus when they look up.  Jesus is at work in our lives, too, working to touch our lives and to help us see his face in the lives of our fellow Christians so that we can have our hearts transformed from people who are paralyzed with fear to people who rise up and live in hope…
  • Attitudes – it would have been natural for Peter, James and John to follow Jesus down the mountain, and then boast to the others about their super-spiritual experience!  Instead, Jesus tells them to say nothing of this until after he’s been raised from the dead.  It’s sort of an odd command, but it reminds Peter, James and John that they’re still on their journey, and they still have lots to learn and lots of transformation to go through.  And that’s also what we need to remember as well.  No matter where we are on our journey of faith, Jesus isn’t done with us.  We all still have lots to learn and experience.  And Jesus calls us, also, to the kind of humility which focuses on what God is doing in our lives, and not on ourselves…

And so as we prepare to enter the journey of Lent together, watch for the ways in which Jesus is working in your life to call you to metamorphosis.  Seek to receive and give the touch of Jesus in your life.  And be open to the possibility that God is using new experiences in the journey of your life, even the ones that scare you, to call you to transformation.