Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
I was never much good at science at school. I was more interested in languages and literature; hence the large collection of books that fill the house now! I could explain the structure of a piece of poetry, iambic pentameters and the like, (not sure I could now!) but I had no idea how an internal combustion engine worked.
One lesson in physics did take my attention though, and that was the study of electricity. It is invisible, formless, cannot be heard or smelt yet contact with it will have an immediate effect on one, possibly life changing. It can power whole cities, just look at London lighting up the night sky whilst industry and commerce work at full capacity, homes are lit and heated, whilst meals cooked all at the same time. Yet it can also recharge a mobile phone or a heart defibrillator. How can such energy be harnessed to perform all these functions yet remain the same electricity? A more scientifically minded friend told me that something called a transformer is needed to reduce the voltage as required. I’ll take his word for it!
In Sunday’s Gospel reading we hear of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It, too, is a story about transformation. The event is also recorded in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels but our reading today comes from Mark who uses just seven verses to describe this transforming, life changing event. Let’s look at it little closer.
Mark starts the story with the words “Six days earlier”. So what happened six days earlier? Well, in previous verses of this chapter Mark describes Jesus questioning the disciples as to who they think He is. Peter rightly says He is the Messiah. Now there is a problem here for the word can mean Anointed One and at this time when Emperor worship was the accepted thing, kings and emperors would proclaim themselves in that way. In fact this is the type of Messiah Peter, and probably many of the other disciples, thought Jesus to be; a warrior king who would overthrow the Roman occupiers. That is why he was unable to understand what Jesus meant by saying He would suffer and die at the hands of the authorities. That couldn’t happen to the warrior king who was to restore Israel to its former glory! Maybe at that point the disciples began to wonder if they were right to be following this man. Was He really the Messiah promised by Moses and the prophets? Had John pointed out the wrong man? If Jesus was to suffer and die perhaps they should leave now before they too got caught up in the bloodshed.
The Transfiguration on the mountain changed all that. There, before their eyes and in the presence of Moses the Law giver and Elijah the greatest prophet of the Jews, Jesus was transfigured. He was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. The presence of Moses and Elijah was proof of that. If there was any doubt in their minds His divine nature was confirmed by the voice from heaven saying “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!”
After hearing those words, everything appeared to return to normal. Moses and Elijah disappeared, Jesus resumed his human form and they all came down from the mountain to resume their journey to Jerusalem. Once again Jesus impressed on them not to say anything about what had just happened. As He explained to His mother at the wedding at Cana his time had not yet come. He wanted to keep His true identity secret until the appropriate time. At Calvary on Good Friday He would say: “Consummatum est” – “It is finished”. His true identity had now been made vividly clear to everyone, even the centurion standing guard recognised Him as the Son of God (Mark 15:39).
Now, let us be clear as to what happened at the Transfiguration. It was the disciples who were transformed, not Jesus. He was transfigured which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means: ‘To alter the figure or appearance of; to change in outward appearance’. This did not happen to the disciples, their appearance did not change, they remained the same human beings they were created to be. Yet they were changed. They were transformed and that transformation meant that their faith was confirmed, strengthened so that they were able to carry out the mission God had given to them; to nurture and develop Christianity after His death.
So what is God saying to us?
In this passage I think we are being reminded to listen to that voice from heaven; God’s command to listen to His beloved Son. In today’s hectic noise filled life, with its 24 hour news bulletins and commentaries by ‘experts’, with instant communication via social media and our daily busy lifestyle we tend to hear but not pay attention to what is being said. We shut out the extraneous noise. Yet unless we really listen we may miss that small, still voice. The other day I read somewhere: “Sometimes we need to be nudged into recognising God in what we perceive as interruptions in our busy schedules. Sometimes we need to be knocked over.” That, of course is something that contact with electricity will do! For example, a heart defibrillator will often restart a faulty heart. And that is what we need, a radical change of heart. We must put aside the scramble for material wealth, power, privilege, social climbing…. The list goes on! By listening prayerfully to God’s word we are called to embrace God’s gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and use them to make a difference to this world in which we live. And yes, people will notice a difference in us; in our transformed selves, by the way we think and act.
So you see, paying attention to my science studies did pay off!
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years