Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Transfiguration, Psalm 91, Prayer
Volume 7 No. 428 August 4, 2017
II. Lectionary Reflections

The Greatness of God (The Transfiguration of Our Lord)

by Samuel Zumwalt

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
- Luke 9:28-36


In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Just before today's reading from Luke chapter nine, the Lord Jesus had asked His disciples who they thought that He was (v. 20). Then Peter answered that He was the Christ of God (v. 20). Then Jesus made the first of three passion predictions. In verse 22, He said: "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Then, He said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let that person deny him or herself and take up his or her cross daily and follow me" (v. 23).

Here in today's Gospel, about eight days have since passed when the Lord Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on an unnamed mountain to pray. When you talk about having a mountaintop experience, says preaching professor Fred Craddock, don't even begin to think that yours compares with what happens on the mount of Transfiguration. Craddock says: "There are in the Scriptures accounts of experiences of Jesus and of other persons serving the purposes of God for which analogies in our common experiences are not easily found. One reads and studies these accounts, and the experience is one of awe and wonder and worship. The question, 'What in our lives is a suitable parallel?' does not even seem appropriate. Applications and exhortations trivialize" (Interpretation: Luke, 132).

In other words, there on the mountaintop Peter, James, and John get a taste of the greatness of God. The Lord Jesus is praying, and the appearance of His face changes. His clothes become not just dazzling white. The Greek text says that His clothes became like lightning. Suddenly the three disciples see two men also surrounded by glorious light. They see Moses and Elijah, the two great representatives of the Law and the Prophets, whom pious Jews expected to appear at the end of time. They are speaking to Jesus about His coming departure at Jerusalem. The Greek text calls it Jesus' exodus at Jerusalem.

It's just too much for the three disciples to take in. They can't fathom what is happening to them or why. Peter has previously said that folks think of Jesus as a prophet but that he believes Jesus to be the Christ of God, the long-expected anointed king like David. But Peter certainly didn't have any of this in mind. It is even beyond his imagination. They are all apparently on sensory overload, somewhere between waking and sleeping.

All Peter can do is babble something about building tents or tabernacles for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus - wanting somehow to hold on to this glorious heavenly moment on the mountaintop - wanting somehow to enshrine Jesus with Moses and Elijah as some kind of prophetic trinity. Just as Israel celebrated the feast of Tabernacles by dwelling in tents to recall God's care for His people in the wilderness, so now does Peter want to stay here on the mountaintop wrapped in glory? Isn't that a better alternative than to go back down the mountain with Jesus to Jerusalem where He says that He will suffer, be rejected, and killed by the religious leadership?

If Peter and the boys think they have seen it all, then it only gets stranger. The same cloud that denoted God's presence as He delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt and led His people through the wilderness - that same cloud suddenly envelops them all on the mountaintop. Luke says Peter, James, and John were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then the voice of God that spoke at Jesus' baptism declaring Him to be the anointed king and servant of the Lord now repeated the word: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!"

Then the cloud was gone. Moses and Elijah were gone. The glory of the Lord was gone. The lightning appearance of His clothes was gone. Then it was Jesus and Peter and James and John alone and going back down the mountain. What could they say? How could they begin to explain what had happened at this point? They were silent - finally silent. No more babbling. No more misunderstanding. No more blissful ignorance of what was going to happen to Jesus. They were silent.


I don't know which is the better way to try to describe us disciples today. Are we sleepwalking through life? Or are we only half-awake like Peter, James, and John?

I remember listening a number of years ago to a National Public Radio interview with the former singer/songwriter Cat Stevens. He had long since converted from a nominal Christian culture to a passionate observance of Islam, now calling himself Yusef Islam. He was in Texas at the time raising money for his Islamic schools by promoting the sale of his greatest hits CDs. I found myself listening to this interview with some fascination having once, at the age of 20, attended a Cat Stevens concert and having owned several of his albums on vinyl.

As I listened, I remember how condescendingly dismissive he was of the Christian faith talking about how all those poor simple Christians had just gotten the prophet Jesus wrong. How could anyone think that Allah could have a son? How could anyone possibly take the great prophet Jesus and twist him from the great teacher he was into some kind of false deity?

I thought of Peter on the mountaintop, very much like Cat Stevens, wanting to make Jesus safely one of the prophets, wanting to keep the Lord God very much at a distance from our broken humanity. Yes, let Jesus perhaps be a towering figure like Moses or Elijah. That's something a pious person can understand and appreciate.

Isn't it still easier today to domesticate Jesus, to reduce him to a great teacher? Isn't it easier to want a glorious mountaintop experience of prayer and worship than to follow the only Son of God to His cross and ours?

Half-asleep disciples? Sleepwalking disciples? Could that be us?


Driving down the street in our coastal community, I saw one of those church signs that said: "There's no such thing as being almost saved."

I thought of that dramatic scene near the end of the movie Titanic when most of the people for whom there was no lifeboat had drowned. Jack, the young artist played by Leonardo DiCaprio, has already died of hypothermia. Rose, his lover played by Kate Winslet, is floating on a wooden door and is near death. Finally, a lifeboat with room for more people has come back and is looking among the dead for survivors. A searchlight is shining in the darkness. Rose is so cold that she can hardly think. Then she recognizes that help has come. She dives into the water and swims to a frozen man with a whistle in his mouth. She grabs the whistle and begins to blow.

If Rose had not grabbed the whistle, if Rose had not seen the light, if Rose had not found the strength to keep on blowing the whistle, she would have been almost saved. But being almost saved was, in fact, the fate of all the others floating in the water.

If there is such a thing as being almost saved, it's called being tragically unsaved.

And what of our world today? Those that see no need for rescue, see no chains of sin binding them, see no evil, and see no need for a Savior - of them, could it be said that they were almost saved? Could such a terrible thing happen to half awake disciples?


The great and gracious God that shows Himself in Jesus Christ has come down to earth to "take on our nature and our lot" (as the Eucharistic prayer of Hippolytus puts it). Or as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21: "For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Peter, James, and John were blessed to see the greatness of God on the mountaintop so that they might understand that Christ Jesus was no prophet - not even a great one like Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets personified. Christ Jesus was Himself the Gospel, the good news of God's gracious rescue of sinners enslaved by sin, death, and Satan. Soon Christ Jesus would lead a new exodus through His death on a cross and the subsequent affirmation of His glorious resurrection. Soon he would lead enslaved sinners through the waters of Holy Baptism in order to give us and them the hope of the everlasting joy and freedom of the heavenly Promised Land.

So when God the Father envelops Peter, James, and John in the cloud, He tells them clearly the way of salvation. Listen to Jesus. Attend to Jesus. Pay attention to Jesus, the only begotten Chosen Son of God!


If Jesus were simply one of the prophets, then remaining half awake or even to be sleepwalking disciples would be no big deal. But now that we know that Jesus is the unique revelation of God, now that we have seen His lightning appearance on the mountaintop, we cannot go back to a time of not knowing. It is as one pastor said of a recurring conflict with his wife. He said, "I couldn't not know what I knew!"

Peter, James, and John couldn't forget what they had seen and heard. When someone has come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, that person can betray the relationship, can wander off where demons dwell, and can, like Peter in the courtyard, deny the Lord Jesus. But that person can't forget what she or he knows. There is no more sleepwalking. There is no more being half awake.

Christ Jesus has come looking for everyone enslaved by sin, death, and evil. He has come to call sinners to the waters of baptism and to saving faith. Like the lifeboat in Titanic, Christ Jesus is shining in the darkness, seeking those near death, that they might not be almost saved - but ultimately lost.

Wherever you have been, whatever you have done, whatever has been done to you, no matter how lost you feel, no matter how enslaved you are - Christ Jesus loves you and wants you to be His forever. He has died for your sins. All of them! He wants you to be baptized into His death and resurrection. He wants you to trust Him forever!

If you have been already baptized and believing, but have been sleepwalking or half awake, Christ Jesus is calling you to listen to His voice. Follow Him to His cross. Lose your selfish self. Indeed wake up and join His rescue party.

There are people all around you that are living lives that are worse than a disaster movie. They are enslaved and can't see it. And there are people all around you that are drowning in hopelessness and despair. They are dying for lack of love. Don't let them be almost saved! Shine the light of Christ into their darkness! Let them hear the Savior's voice speaking through you: "I love you forever. Come…be mine!"

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel D. Zumwalt
Source: Göttinger Predigten im Internet, ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch, C. Dinkel, I. Karle

Listen to Him

by Dr. Scott Hahn


Genesis 12:1-4
Psalm 33:4-5,18-20, 22
2 Timothy 1:8-10
Matthew 17:1-9

Today's Gospel portrays Jesus as a new and greater Moses.

Moses also took three companions up a mountain and on the seventh day was overshadowed by the shining cloud of God's presence. He too spoke with God and his face and clothing were made radiant in the encounter (see Exodus 24,34).

But in today's Liturgy, the Church wants us to look back past Moses. Indeed, we are asked to contemplate what today's Epistle calls God's "design…from before time began."

With his promises to Abram in today's First Reading, God formed the people through whom He would reveal himself and bestow His blessings on all humanity.

He later elevated these promises to eternal covenants and changed Abram's name to Abraham, promising that he would be father of a host nations (see Genesis 17:5). In remembrance of His covenant with Abraham he raised up Moses (see Exodus 2:24; 3:8), and later swore an everlasting kingdom to David ‘s sons (see Jeremiah 33:26).

In Jesus' transfiguration today, He is revealed as the One through whom God fulfills his divine plan from of old.

Not only a new Moses, Jesus is also the "beloved son" promised to Abraham and again to David (see Genesis 22:15-18; Psalm 2:7; Matthew 1:1).

Moses foretold a prophet like him to whom Israel would listen (see Deuteronomy 18:15,18) and Isaiah foretold an anointed servant in whom God would be well-pleased (see Isaiah 42:1). Jesus is this prophet and this servant, as the Voice on the mountain tells us today.

By faith we have been made children of the covenant with Abraham (see Galatians 3:7-9; Acts 3:25). He calls us, too, to a holy life, to follow His Son to the heavenly homeland He has promised. We know, as we sing in today's Psalm, that we who hope in Him will be delivered from death.

So like our father in faith, we go forth as the Lord directs us: "Listen to Him!"


by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

There are blessed or tragic moments when we can see a person revealed to us in a light with a depth, with an awesome beauty which we have never suspected before.

It happens when our eyes are open, at a moment of purity of heart; because it is not only God Himself Whom the pure in heart will see; it is also the divine image, the light shining in the darkness of a human soul, of the human life that we can see at moments when our heart becomes still, becomes transparent, becomes pure.

But there are also other moments when we can see a person whom we thought we have always known, in a light that is a revelation. It happens when someone is aglow with joy, with love, with a sense of worship and adoration. It happens also when a person is at the deepest point, the crucifying point of suffering, but when the suffering remains pure, when no hatred, no resentment, no bitterness, no evil is mixed to it, when pure suffering shines out, as it shone invisibly to many from the crucified Christ.

This can help us to understand what the Apostles saw when they were on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw Christ in glory at a moment when His total surrender to the will of the Father, His final and ultimate acceptance of His own human destiny, became revealed to them. Moses and Elijah, we are told, stood by Him; the one representing the Law and the other one representing the Prophets: both have proclaimed the time when salvation would come, when the Man of suffering will take upon Himself all the burdens of the world, when the Lamb of God slain before all ages would take upon Himself all the tragedy of this world. It was a moment when in His humanity Christ, in humble and triumphant surrender, gave Himself ultimately to the Cross.

Last week we heard Him say that the Son of God will be delivered in the hand of men, and they will crucify Him, but on the third day He will rise. At that moment it became imminent, it was a decisive point, and He shone with the glory of the perfect, sacrificial, crucified love of the Holy Trinity, and the responsive love of Jesus the Man, as Saint Paul calls Him. The Apostles saw the shining, they saw the divine light streaming through the transparent flesh of Christ, falling on all the things around Him, touching rock and plant, and calling out of them a response of light. They alone did not understand, because in all the created world man alone has sinned and is blind. And yet, they were shown the mystery, and yet, they entered into that cloud which is the divine glory, that filled them with awe, with fear, but at the same time with such exulting joy and wonder!

Moses had entered that cloud and was allowed to speak to God as a friend speaks to a friend; he was allowed to see God passing by him, still without a name, still without a face, and now, they saw the face of God in the Incarnation. They saw His face and they saw His glory shining out of tragedy. What they perceived was the glory, what they perceived was the wonder of being there, in the glory of God, in the presence of Christ revealed to them in glory. They wanted to stay there forever, as we do at moments when something fills us with adoration, with worship, with awe, with unutterable joy, but Christ had told them that the time has come to go down into the valley, to leave the Mount of Transfiguration because this was the beginning of the way of the Cross, and He had to be merged into all that was tragic in human life. He brought them down into the valley to be confronted with the agony of the father whose child could not be cured, with the inability of the disciples to do anything for this child, with the expectation of the people who now could turn to no - one but Him - that is where He brought them.

And we are told that He had chosen these three disciples because together, in their togetherness they held the three great virtues that make us capable of sharing with God the mystery of His incarnation, of His Divinity, of His crucifixion, to face His descent into hell after His death and to receive the news of His resurrection: the faith of Peter, the love of John, the righteousness of James.

There are moments when we also see something which is beyond us, and how much we wish we could stay, stay forever in this blissful condition; and it is not only because we are incapable of it that we are not allowed to stay in it, but because the Lord says, You are now on the Mount of Transfiguration, you have seen Christ ready to be crucified for the life of the world - go now together with Him, go now in His name, go now, and bring people to Him that they may live!

This is our vocation. May God give us faith, and the purity of heart that allows us to see God in every brother and sister of ours! Didn't one of the Desert Fathers say, He who has seen his brother has seen God'? - and serve one another with love sacrificial, with the exulting joy of giving our lives to one another as Christ gave His life for us. Amen.

Source: The 5th International Conference dedicated to Metropolitan Anthony's legacy, Moscow, 18-20 September, 2015

© Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Foundation
Metropolitan Anthony Library


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