Thursday, February 15, 2007

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 9:28-36

[The first pass at this Bible lesson will explain what this is all about and give general comments about it. Here is the second pass, which began the verse-by-verse comments.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments (continued)
32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
(1) Sleep can probably be read both literally and metaphorically. Throughout Luke, chapter 9, there is one moment of cogency, of "being awake." That's when Peter confesses faith in Jesus as, "The Messiah of God." In fact, while Jesus is always the central character of the Gospels, Luke 9 and 10 are really about the disciples, their faint grasping of what it means to follow Jesus, and Jesus directives to them as His followers.

It's difficult not to connect this incident with Luke 22:45-46, where Jesus mournfully upbraids the apostles for falling asleep as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. His concern was their spiritual well-being:
“Why are you sleeping? [Jesus asked them] Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
How many of us sleepwalk through a lot of our lives, unaware of the damage happening in our relationship with God and other people? We need to be awake, attentive, and prayerful! When we are, Christ can bring healing to our lives and relationships.

(2) Fortunately, in this instance, the three apostles did stay awake and so saw this glistening sign of Jesus' deity and Sonship!

33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said.
(1) Dwellings can be translated as booths, like those used by Jews even today during the Festival of Booths. This festival celebrates the harvest. But more significantly, it's also associated with the temporary dwellings used by the ancient Hebrews during their wilderness wanderings from Egypt to the Promised Land. This underscores the fulfillment motif of Luke's Gospel that says that Jesus wasn't a departure from historic Judaism, but its fulfillment.

(2) Well-meaning though he may have been, Luke dismisses Peter's suggestion, saying, "not knowing what he said." What was wrong with Peter's plan of building boths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. I think that there are several elements that are wrong:
  • First: It puts Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus, both equally worthy of our attention. The voice from heaven will soon disabuse Peter, James, and John of this notion: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” the Voice says.
  • Second: Peter proposes to capture this moment of epiphany, to capture God. This is the approach of dead religion against which Jesus and the entire Bible warns believers. Faith in the God we know in Jesus Christ can't be boiled down to stale propositions, dead bricks and mortar, stained glass windows, or religious ritual, though each may point us to Christ and a living relationship with Him.
Peter himself would later teach the early Church:
Come to him [Jesus], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. [First Peter 2:4-5]
These words can be a corrective to our tendency to worship our religion and its props rather than God Himself. I think Peter probably learned this lesson up on the Mount of Transfiguration.

An old hymn has these words:
Not in our temples made with hands
God, the Almighty, is dwelling;
High in the heav'ns His temple stands,
All earthly temples excelling.
Yet He Who dwells in heav'n above
Deigns to abide with us in love,
Making our bodies His temple.
I sometimes get concerned about all the money we Christians spend on putting up church buildings and maintaining them.
  • Is it God that we're glorifying or our own righteousness and sanctimony?
  • Or are we, like Peter, trying to capture Christ, hoping that imposing architecture will help us to "feel religious," instead of doing as the Father's voice instructed Peter, James, and John: LISTEN TO JESUS?
34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.
(1) More Old Testament allusions here. Beginning in Exodus 13:21, a cloud led the Hebrews during their wilderness wanderings. The cloud was thought to be the presence of God among them, leading them.

(2) Of course, they were terrified in the cloud. They knew now that they were in the presence of God. Theologians, as we've noted before, call this numinous awe.

35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
(1) Bryan Findlayson notes:
A divine word corrects Peter's mistake. Jesus is not to be compared with Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the divine "Son", the "chosen" one, the "elect" one, and therefore, the disciples should "listen" to him. The divine word declares Jesus as the royal Son of God, the messianic servant and the eschatological prophet like Moses, Deut.18:15. It is to Jesus the disciples must submit...

There is many an Elijah or Moses to divide our loyalties, but in the end, it is Jesus we must "listen" too; he must be our focus, our Lord. Through his word, read, expounded, studied..... we can take up his life-giving truth and experience its transforming power, preparing us for our reign with Christ in eternity. Therefore, like those disciples of long ago, let us "listen to him."
36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
(1) Until later, when the cross and empty tomb made sense of it all and the Holy Spirit gave the Church the power to tell the world about Jesus!

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