Tell no one about the vision until …
February 19, 2023
INTRODUCTION TO SCRIPTURE: THE TRANSFIGURATION
The transfiguration of Jesus is a pivotal story. The three disciples with him (Peter, James and John) realized that Jesus is not just mortal, but had a divine connection to God. The easiest way to say it: Jesus was human, but also fully divine. But that was hard to grasp, so Jesus warned them, don’t tell others yet. It isn’t the right time. We explore that “not yet” message of the transfiguration today.
SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 17:1-9 NRSVRE Karen Kemper
1-Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2-And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became bright as light. 3-Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4-Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will set up three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5-While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6-When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7-But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8-And when they raised their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9-As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
LEADER: The Word of God that is still speaking.
ALL: Thanks be to God
MESSAGE Tell no one about the vision until … Pastor Donna Goltry
Tell no one about the vision until… how often are we asked to keep secrets because we aren’t sure it is right time to tell about it. Used to be, things we now consider suitable for telling were hidden until they could no longer be.
Sitting at the lunch counter of a Rexall drug in McPherson with my sister, Norma, my aunt, told us. Mother was having a baby. Was Mother too shy, too embarrassed, too private, felt she was too old, to tell us? But Mother obviously had confided in Norma as well as my friend’s mother, because my friend had taunted me on the playground sometime earlier. “Your mom’s going to have a baby.” No she isn’t, I shot back. How was it my friend knew but I didn’t? Who knows, maybe Mother wanted it that way, never one to want to talk about intimate details aloud, hoping I’d find out some other way.
Or, maybe she thought it just wasn’t time yet. It was customary then not to reveal pregnancy until it showed. And in some ways, this was self-protective on Mother’s part, because it was still common that once women were showing, they were forced leave their jobs, quit teaching at school. Today we find it odd that the completely natural process of a baby growing inside a woman’s body was considered too embarrassing to be visible in the workplace in polite society. Thank goodness, that social practice had already begun to fall by the wayside about that time, and continued to erode away. In fact, I remember that Mother was one who helped push away that boundary as she continued to work well into her pregnancy in a local law office as highly skilled paralegal secretary. But, sometimes, we just don’t feel the time is right to reveal some secret. And that was Jesus’ feeling on that day as he and his closest disciples descended from their mountain top transfiguration vision. His disciples had witnessed the unbelievable. They had seen a vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah, men of long ago, and all three appeared as dazzling white. At the time it happened, who would have believed them if they told what they saw?
Timing can be everything: told too soon, an unbelievable event can be rejected as not possible; told too late, who cares. The trick is to tell at just the right time. For the contemporaries of Jesus, the right time to reveal the vision of the transfiguration was after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus had specifically said this to Peter, James and John, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9b) By then, people’s eyes had been opened to new possibilities that unfolded at the cross and from Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Suddenly the full import of Jesus’ divinity became comprehensible. This Lent, we will explore the witnesses at the cross and their reactions as they are recorded in our gospels. Until I dove into Amy-Jill Levine’s Lenten study,(1) I had not realized how many folks who were at the cross. Folks like scoffers, the beloved disciple, the women who were waiting and watching, the officials, and more. We will look at:
• Why were they there?
• What were they feeling as they watched?
• How did it affect their lives later?
And in doing so, it may provoke in you the questions:
• What would I have done if I had been at the cross?
• Which of those at the cross do I see myself like? Would I have been like the scoffers, or the women who hung around? Or the ones who were so convicted by what they saw that they turned their lives in a new direction?
One person whom I had never given much thought about was Simon of Cyrene. His name gives us a clue who he was – a Jew from North Africa. Simon is the man conscripted by Roman soldiers to carry the cross for Jesus. Can we imagine having to carry Jesus’ cross, being in close proximity to Jesus and seeing the abuse he had suffered? It may have transformed Simon of Cyrene’s life? Did he stick around to watch the crucifixion happen?(2)
We have a tantalizing detail in the Gospel of Mark that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. It is intriguing, because why would Mark have named Alexander and Rufus unless they were known to the early followers of Jesus after the crucifixion?(3)
1 Amy-Jill Levine, Witness at the Cross: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2021).
2 Ibid xviii-xxi.
3 Ibid xxi.