Jesus is the Chosen One

Luke 9:28-36 (Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99)   I am amazed each and every time I encounter a well-known biblical text and see something I had not seen before – not in a life-time of textual engagement. The same is true of the making of connections (joining of the dots) which help the text come alive. Here are a few examples in Luke’s account of the Transfiguration:
 
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28). The Transfiguration comes a week or so after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (9:20); and following Jesus’ declaration that “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God: (9:27).  So, Peter is on something of a spiritual “high” at this point. No wonder he gets the wrong end of the stick in this encounter in which he sees not the kingdom but Jesus’ glory! (v. 31)
Peter, James and John are drowsy (“weighed down with sleep” v. 32), as they hear Jesus, Moses and Elijah talking about Jerusalem, and about Jesus’ departure. At that very moment, Moses and Elijah begin to leave. The Greek word used here means literally a gradual departure or disappearance. In other words, it is while these two great figures of the Hebrew Scriptures begin to fade away that Peter voices his heart-felt desire that this moment not end: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (v. 32). Preachers tend to make fun of Peter’s lack of understanding. Yet, don’t we all (we humans) reach out toward things and people that mean the world to us, as they fade and leave us? “Stay!” is the cry of humanity.
 
The word translated as “departure” (v. 31) is literally exodus. For our Jewish cousins, the Exodus was the beginning of a long journey towards the land of destiny. The Transfiguration comes at the very end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Now Luke gives a lengthy account (9:51-19:28) of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem; beginning with his setting his face toward the Holy City and ending with his arrival at the city gate.  So, although Jesus’ exodus may refer to his Passion, it might also describe the beginning of his long journey towards the city of destiny – “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (13:34).
 
The voice of the Father that was heard at Jesus’ baptism (“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” Luke 3:22), is heard again at his Transfiguration. But, now there is a new audience. The Father doesn’t address Jesus, but rather the three disciples who are to carry out Jesus’ ministry: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (9:35). The Galilean ministry began with Jesus’ baptism, and the revelation that his ministry is powered by the Spirit: Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem begins with the Transfiguration, and the revelation that this journey is likewise powered by the Spirit.
 
Once again, Peter is my hero – the one to whom I can relate. He is tired (v. 32), terrified (v. 34), and confused (v. 33). He has left behind the sphere of the ordinary by ascending the mountain (v. 28), and now the glorious vision before him is fading away (v. 33). Yet it is precisely in that very moment – within the cloud that surrounds and terrifies Peter – that the Father speaks to him. Not, you notice, words of rebuke, but words of direction and hope: Jesus is the Chosen One; the only one to whom I/we must listen.