March 6th: “Seeing God”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 17:1-9

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1.   Six days after Peter rebukes Jesus for predicting his demise.

1.   Why these three? Why only three? C.f. Moses taking the elders up Sinai.

2.   C.F. Moses’ face shining. Is it Jesus who was changed or is it we who are changed so we recognize the divine?

3.   Is this to contradict those who say Jesus was Elijah/Moses? New Moses/Elijah?

4.   Peter tries to preserve the scene. How do we hold on to God, to keep God as we want God to be?

5.   C.f. cloud overshadowing Sinai when God speaks to Moses.

6.   C.f. Israel trembling in fear at the voice of God on Sinai.

o   Jesus does not leave us bowed and awed in worship, but commands us to act.

o     We look up now and see an empty cross. Yet we know that God is very much near. No further than our next breath.

o     What would have happened if they had told? Would the crowds have held themselves back lest they look upon God? Would the authorities have pressed for his execution sooner or not at all? Would the disciples have been considered mad?

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Based on Mark, Matt greatly elevates the incident (by ARCH TAYLOR to SERMONSHOP_2002_02_10.topic@ecunet.org):

  • 1] In Mark only brightness of Jesus’ clothing is mentioned, but Matt says his face shone like the sun (c.f. Rev 1.13ff in description of Jesus and Dan 12.3 the brightness of the righteous in the future kingdom.
  • 2] Mark places Elijah first and uses singular verb “appeared” adding only incidentally “with Moses” which may have been a later gloss (c.f. Eduard Schweitzer) but Matt while retaining the singular of the verb writes “Moses and Elijah.”
  • 3] Matt changes Peter’s address to Jesus from “rabbi” to “Lord.”
  • 4] Mark says Peter “didn’t know what to say” but Matt has Peter say to Jesus, “if you are willing…”.
  • 5] In Mark the disciples are fearful at that moment, but in Matt not until after they hear the voice from the cloud, at which time they fall on their faces.
  • 6] In Matt, “Jesus came and touched them and said Get up.” This is an addition to Mark which Schweitzer says is post resurrection assurance that the risen Jesus will come and raise up the disciples when they die. Fenton (Penguin) says all these details of “improving” on Mark show Matt really thought of Jesus’ early return in triumph.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

Every detail seems to be packed with theological meaning.

  • High mountain — Sinai?
  • His face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white — compare to Moses after being on Sinai
  • Moses & Elijah — The law & the prophets. Two OT persons who did not die but were taken directly into heaven.
  • Three dwellings — Is open to interpretation. But compares to the festival of the booths.
  • Bright cloud — Cloud over Sinai.
  • The voice uses the words similar to those delivered at Jesus’ baptism.
  • Jesus touched them — healing.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Why were the disciples witnesses to this transformation yet ordered to be secret until after the resurrection?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • The preacher will have to make this real for the congregation. What change happened to the disciples after this transfiguration? How are Christians transfigured by Jesus today?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Robert Gundry (Matthew, Eerdmans Publishing, 1982) notes the parallel of Moses ascending Sinai with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders who saw God (Exod. 24:9-11) with Jesus here taking Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up a new Sinai. He also notes that Joshua, went with Moses for the final ascent into the cloud to receive the law (Exod. 24:13). Thus according to the Greek form, “Jesus” was with Moses at Sinai and Moses was with Jesus at the Transfiguration. The shining of Jesus face following the transfiguration parallels the shining of Moses’ face following epiphanies (Exod. 34:29-30). He considers verses 9 – 13 as a separate pericope.

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible: Vol. VIII; “Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995) argues for keeping verses 9-13 with verses 1-8; none-the-less he also notes that the phrase “coming down the mountain” completes the scene which began with going up the mountain (v. 1). He refutes the idea that the presence of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration prefigures “the Law and the Prophets,” and instead discerns their presence because of their similarity with Jesus: Both Moses and Elijah were prophets initially rejected by the people, but later vindicated by God; Both were avocates for the Torah; Both were considered transcendent persons who did not die, but were taken directly to heaven.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

In the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her traveling companions are finally standing before the wizard with the remnants of the witch’s broom, trembling in fear before a face surrounded with fire and smoke. Then Toto wanders off and pulls aside the curtain hiding the man behind the curtain, pulling the levers that created the smoke and the powerful image and thundering voice. “Pay no attention to the man in the booth!” he commands, as he finally realizes that his charade is over.
Peter and James and John standing with Jesus on the mountain top have the opposite experience. For nearly three years they have come to know Jesus as the man in the booth. Someone anointed with the Holy Spirit, as kings and prophets had been anointed in ages past. But here, for a moment, God pulls aside the curtain and they find themselves standing before God incarnate.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Like giving the Tin Man a heart shaped watch, the Scarecrow a diploma, and the Cowardly Lion a medal of valor, and telling Dorothy how to use her Ruby Slippers, by the Transformation we learn to use gifts we already have but fear/deny using them.

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