Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jesus Got All Shiny

But why did he get all shiny?

Sources: here and here.

Here's what happened in Matthew 17:1-13: Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to a mountain, and then he got all shiny. And Moses and Elijah showed up to talk with Jesus. Then Peter was like "Hey this is great! I'll set up 3 tents for you guys" and a cloud came down and they heard a voice (presumably God) saying "This is my Son, whom I love- with him I am well pleased. Listen to him." And the three of them were so scared they fell down, but then Jesus told them to get up and everything was back to normal.

On the way home, they asked him some questions about Elijah.

So. let's talk about this.

What exactly does it mean that Jesus was "transfigured"? And were Moses and Elijah real?

First of all, what exactly does "transfigured" mean? Do we use that word in any other context besides this? Google defines it as "transform into something more beautiful or elevated." And aha, it's also used in Harry Potter! When they use magic to turn something into something else. (And, I suppose, in Disney fairy tales, when someone turns into a beautiful princess or something.)

And about Moses and Elijah. I've heard that Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets, so their presence shows that Jesus is continuing/fulfilling those things.

But were they ghosts? Like, the real ghost/spirits of the real Moses and Elijah? Were they holograms- just 3D representations of Moses and Elijah but with nobody inside?

"Help me, Peter, James, and John, you're my only hope." Image source.

If they were the real ghosts of Moses and Elijah, well... don't you think the language would have changed during the hundreds of years between their time and Jesus'? What if they couldn't understand each other? Or are ghosts not limited by things like their knowledge of language?

Hey someone remind me, do Christians believe in ghosts or not? :)

Let's back up here. The text says that Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus. What that actually means is that the 3 disciples who witnessed it described it as Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.

Maybe we can't get answers about what the "Moses and Elijah" actually were because the writer and his sources didn't know either. They just said what they appeared to be seeing.

What was the purpose of the transfiguration?

It seems like the point of this was for Peter, James, and John to see it. But why? Maybe to show Jesus' power? And reveal more of who he is, and his connection to God, the law, and the prophets?

But... what was with the part where he got shiny?

Why did the writer feel it was important to include this bit about Peter wanting to set up tents?

Image source.

The way it sounds to me is like "this amazing experience was happening, and then Peter said something stupid, but a cloud came down and basically shut him up."

Like, that's how I've always read it. Peter didn't know what to say, because seriously, what do you say in that situation, so he said something stupid.

Is that it? Is it somehow important? Am I missing something? Why was it written down and preserved for us to blog about it 2000 years later?

So a cloud comes down, and there's a voice- presumably the voice of God- why is he "well pleased" with Jesus? And did he say "listen to him" to scold the disciples? Were they not listening or something? Maybe something is lost in translation?

Was the "well pleased" bit meant as encouragement for Jesus or to teach the disciples? And the "listen to him" bit always felt to me like God was telling Peter to shut up about the 3 shelters. But I really think there could be some translation issues going on here- perhaps the individual words are right, but the feeling of the phrase "listen to him" in American English is not what was being communicated.

All of the bible translations listed here say "listen to him" or something to the effect of "hear him", except the International Standard Version, which says, "Keep on listening to him!" The Message also says "listen to him."

So, what do we make of that?

And then after they got up from the ground, it was all over.

Was it real? Was it just a dream?

And then, on the way home, the disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?"

This means the transfiguration must have got them thinking. My first thought is that it showed them that Jesus is definitely the Christ the Jewish people had been waiting for, but hey wasn't Elijah supposed to come before the Christ? However, I'm not sure if the idea that "the Jewish people were totally waiting for the Christ" is actually true or if it's a common evangelical spin on the story.

In any case, seeing the transfiguration changed the disciples' view about Jesus (and John the Baptist).

So what's the take-home message?

When I was reading this passage with my boyfriend, I told him that (in my experience) Christians always look for some kind of "what does this mean for my life" message when we read the bible. But, like... I don't know, in this story, what am I supposed to do? There's still a lot I don't understand about it.

Just that Jesus got really shiny, basically.


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: The Most Important Question (Matthew 16:13-28)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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