Our Long Journey Continues

given on the fifth Sunday of Lent, April 3, 2011

Scripture #1: Matthew 15:21-22, 20-31, 39-31, 38-39            the Message

21-22From there Jesus took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. They had hardly arrived when a Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, “Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit.” . . .

29-31After Jesus returned, he walked along Lake Galilee and then climbed a mountain and took his place, ready to receive visitors. They came, tons of them, bringing along the paraplegic, the blind, the maimed, the mute . . .  they were astonished and let everyone know that God was blazingly alive among them.  . . .

38-39 Everyone ate. They had all they wanted. It took seven large baskets to collect the leftovers. Over four thousand people ate their fill at that meal. After Jesus sent them away, he climbed in the boat and crossed over to the Magadan hills.

 

Journal reflection: The Journey Expands

Walking a mile in Jesus’ shoes is turning out to be a real endurance test.  I am beginning to think it is akin to competing in a triathlon.  Today’s trek covers a new region, the northern part of Israel.

When we learned that we were heading north, the only community we were familiar with was Tyre.  In fact it is a rather large seaport at the most northern point of Israel.  The land is no longer like that along the Jordan River or the Sea of Galilee.

In Tyre, the focus is not on the crops, it is on the trade.  In fact, Trye was more of an island, but it was a key navigation point along the ancient trade routes.  There is mention of Sidon which is even further north than our map indicates.  It, too, was a seaport barely located in ancient Israel.  According to the website [http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/sidon.html], Sidon barely within the Promised Land, and was never possessed by the tribes.  It is interesting that the Bible History website also included the story of Jesus healing the daughter of a “Canaanite” woman:

During the first century A.D. a Syro-Phoenician woman came to Jesus when he was at “the borders of Tyre,” in the district which Solomon gave to king Hiram, to which he gave the name Cabul, or Gabul, “the off scourings,” of his dominions. Jesus cured the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman because she showed faith in him (Matt 15: 21 -28; Mk 7:24 -30).

Jesus’ journey continues with him turning south and heading into the mountains.  I find it interesting that he seems to go to the mountains when he needs a break from the crowds.  The mountains experiences become major transitions for his ministry.

As we continue this journey in Jesus’ ministry, the Spring 30 AD stop in the mountains provided a peak into God’s power and leaves the three disciples spell bound.  I am looking forward to that stop along the way.

 

Scripture #2: Matthew 17:1-13  “The Transfiguration” the Message

1-3 Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.  . . .

5While he (Peter) was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”

6-8When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.

 

The Transfiguration:  Where and Why

 

Reading through the scriptures that cover Jesus’ ministry through Spring 30 AD lead me to some surprises.  First the location was unexpected.  I had no idea that Jesus had gone so far north nor clear to the Mediterranean Coast.  Everything I had read kept his travels along the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee.

After visiting those northern seaports, my first reaction is that he was worn out.  He needed recharging.  I have noticed that many times he stops for rest in a ‘mountain’ region.  The reasons for that could be that that area is not as populated as lowlands, coastlands, or riversides.

Taking only three of his disciples, Jesus went up on the mountain.  When they arrived, Jesus was transformed.  After reading the three versions of the transfiguration, the Message translation in Matthew lets me close my eyes and see what the disciples saw:

 

His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light.

The description appeals to me because I myself feel transformed by sunlight.  My view is from my own frame of reference, from looking at objects backlit by the sun.  It is awesome; it is a photo op; it is never captured perfectly.  It is a God-moment.

Delving into the references, I tried to find understanding about the transfiguration.  Turns out that it is a word built from the Greek word we know as metamorphosis, or change:

The Greek word is “metamorpho” and it means to transform, literally or figuratively to metamorphose, or to change. The word is a verb that means to change into another form. It also means to change the outside to match the inside (emphasis added).  [Accessed on April 1, 2011 at http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/transfiguration-of-jesus-christ-faq.htm]

The website continues to explain exactly what the change was:

In the case of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ it means to match the outside with the reality of the inside. To change the outward so that it matches the inward reality (emphasis added). Jesus’ divine nature was “veiled” (Hebrews 10:20) in human form and the transfiguration was a glimpse of that glory.  [Ibid.]

Consider that image.  Try to capture what the disciples witnessed.  Part of me sees it like the flashlight shining through you hand.  Part of me sees it like a neon white light making everything so clear and distinct.

And the question surfaces:  Why did Jesus go through the transfiguration?  Was there a purpose other than to demonstrate to the three disciples who Jesus was?  Was the need to go up on the mountain and reconnect with God, Moses and Elijah a way of recharging for the remaining year or so of ministry?

The references all seem to agree that the three disciples needed to see this experience in order to confirm who Jesus was.  They needed to see that Moses and Elijah were all connected to God.  They needed proof.

The further I go into this journey, the more proof I find that Jesus is the son of God.  The more I read the scriptures, the more I see connections from the past to today.  The more I learn, the more I want to know.  The more I intentionally develop my faith, the more I strengthen my faith.  The more I grow, the more I want to share.

Scripture #3:   Matthew 17:14-21                                                            the Message

14-16At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, “Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he is pitched into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him.”

17-18Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here.” He ordered the afflicting demon out—and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well.

19When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we throw it out?”

20“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed (mustard seed), say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”

Journal reflection #2: The World Needs Faith

Wake up from that sleepy state you are in after being awake all night on the mountain.  I know these travels can wear one out, but remember, even Jesus needed rest and to renew himself.  The transfiguration may have been like a recharging station.

Each month we meet for worship and join in communion together.  Today is that day.  Today we have really expanded our journey and witnessed the transfiguration up on the mountain.  We have seen how many followers keep making the journey along Jesus’ path.  We have heard the stories of the miracles, the healings, and even the casting out of demons.

The lessons continue to surprise us, the repetition of the stories in different gospels helps us accept the truth of Jesus’ ministry.  We are learning how we are to serve as disciples, too.  In the last set of scriptures from Matthew 17, another question is answered:  How come the disciples could not cast out demons?  They had been trained; but when it came down to it, they failed.

Look at those verses again.  In verse 17, we hear Jesus’ frustration was feeling as the disciples questioned him about their inability to heal or to cast out demons or to carry out a miracle.

17-18Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this?

But, Jesus was a teacher, and he continued on to explain to the disciples one more time:

20“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed (mustard seed), say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”

With that answer, I find a sense of freedom.  We try over and over to let go and let God.  But we still hold onto our worries.  We say we have faith, but maybe it needs to grow.

As we open up our hearts and minds to take communion in our open hands, let us plant that tiny little mustard seed of faith.  Let us continue to follow Jesus and his disciples loving one another.

 

[Join together in the sacrament of communion.

Hear the words of the institution:]

 

Dear Father,

Through these days of Lent, help us to experience our own transfiguration.

When we wake up to the bright morning sunrise, show us your glory.

When we look up at noon and the sun seems blinding, strengthen us.

When we leave work and the sun begins to set, remind us that you love us.

Through these days of Lent, help us to find the joy of serving you.

When we see one ill or lame, hear our prayer for healing.

When we see one addicted or angered, hear our prayer for their change of heart.

When we see one blind to your miracles, hear our prayer that they may see.

Through these days of Lent, may our journey be guided by your Words.

Through these days of Lent, may our journey guide others, too. –Amen

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