A sermon on Luke 9:28-43a (the Transfiguration) by Zipho Mbambo, student at the College of Transfiguration, Makhanda/Grahamstown, South Africa.
One would not understand or know a person until one knows and understands the person. My father was a well-known person, a popular person loved by the community. A businessmanin the taxi industry and one of the King`s chiefs in the area. In the taxi industry, he owned many taxis, he was a taxi boss. He was the chairperson of various association. He also owned some few supermarkets in our area, where senior citizens would come an collect their pension, so, it was a busy supermarket. We were a big family because my father was a polygamous man, a family man who also loved his family and would do anything to protect us. Our mothers were five and my mother was number three in this family. We were 32 children and I am number 17 to my father, and number 4 to my mother. He was a typical Zulu man, proud of himself, a hero to us and our community. That was all we knew about our father until he was shot dead in cold blood.
He died fighting but he could not survive this time as usually happened, today was the day for him. What was surprising was that people were happy to hearthat our father is dead while we were crying. We were told that other owners in the taxi associations were very delighted to hear about his death. This was very puzzling and disturbing to us as the family. We wanted to go and revenge our father. We did not understand the reasons forthe behaviourof the people, even those we thought they were our father’s friend.
We buried our father, it was not easy I can say. One of our father’s friend told us the side of our father that we never knew, I can tell you, it was a very disturbing side, we were all surprised in discovering the true identity of Our father. We were told that what we were feeling at the time was what other families felt when our father did the similar things to other families. One of the widows in the community come to us, to affirm that indeed some community were happy. She said “we are happy now because the family of this man can feel what we felt when your father did the same to our family”.
We did not know this our father`s side, because we did not go with him every time. All we know is that he loved his family and his community. What we were hearing was news in our ears. We realise at the end that the man we thought we knew was the different man from another people’s perspective. He was a killer, a monster from other people yet to us, he was a good man. Then we wondered who is our father really? But we were supposed to have seen and understood him better than the way we knew him. Perhaps we were weighed down with sleep that is the reason we did not know his true identity. But the behaviour of the person can give one a clue about his/her true identity. We supposed to have notice from his companions, his friends and also his business associate. But we could not because were pondered down with sleep. There is a saying in English that says “show me your friends and I will show you your future”. Indeed, we should have noticed something, but we failed, until his death. I submit to you all people of God that it is very hard and challenging to know and recognise the true identity of the person, let alone that of Jesus.
In the text we have just heard, we come across a story of Jesus praying in the mount with his disciples. Unlike in Matthew disciples were praying in Luke, they were not looking around like in Matthew. The reason for going to the mount for Jesus and his three Disciples, Peter, John and James was to pray. Most of the preachers in this text, always suggests that we will meet Jesus in the mountaintop. My approach is different because, for me, Jesus is trying to reveal his true identity. Just before this passage in Luke 9:18-20, Jesus asked his disciple: “who do the crowds say that I am? They replied,“they say you are John the Baptist but others Elijah and still others that one of the ancient prophets has arisen”. Then Jesus asked again, “who do you say that I am”, Peter replied and said that “you are the Messiah of God”. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is not associate with Moses, this is because of Luke is writing to the Gentiles. He did not want his gospel to be associated with the Torah like that Matthew. According to my view, it is fundamental that when Jesus asked his disciple about his identity according to the crowd, they suggested that he was seen as Elijah or another ancient Prophet. We are told that when Jesus was praying his appearance changed and his clothes became dazzling white (Luke 9:29). When we think of dazzling white we think of angels in white garments at the ascension (Act 1:10) and dazzling clothes at the resurrection (Luke 24:2), that can suggest a happy event. After that change of situation, Jesus is with Moses and Elijah. The conversation between Jesus, Elijah and Moses was the about the departure of Jesus. Then why would Luke portray a departure story as a joyous event? To Luke,the conversation is not about the death but is about the departure. What does that mean? “This is unique to Luke because that can suggest the ‘passing over’ includes the entire movement of the prophet’s death, resurrection, and ascension, which enable Jesus to bestow the Spirit on his followers” (Johnson Commentary). The event of Jesus` death, resurrection and ascension is included in the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
What is problematic here is that Peter, John and James do not know Moses and Elijah but they able to recognise them with Jesus. Another problem is that they were weighed down with sleep, however, they were able to see the unfolding of the event. Then what does the weighed down with sleep mean in this passage? Some other versions are using the word ‘sleepy’. Meaning they were not literally sleeping but we’relooking like a person who is drunk but who can still see things. Do not ask me though how do I know the look of the drunken man. I notice on this text that maybe because they were sleepy, it can happen that they did not understand or hear the conversation of Jesus’ departure because they were sleepy. Jesus is trying to reveal his true identity and his Gospel but disciples miss the important part, the conversation, but they saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah. To lose the conversation can suggest that they could not understand fully the true identity of Christ. It is difficult to understand fully the identity of Jesus if you do not know the conversation, his Gospel, his truth, his teaching, his sayings and also his work on earth. In lacking the sober eyes, one can miss a fundamental opportunity to understand the full divinity of Jesus. I think the same is happening in this context of ours. We assume to know and understand the true identity of one another. We think we know each other, but the truth is we only know what is in front of us, and most of the times, what we see is not the identity of an individual. Sometimes we spend more of our time trying to grapple with the true identity of someone. Allow me to suggest my dear people of God that in looking at the face value we study the wrong people and we trying to read and understand wrong people.
As a family, we failed to understand the true identity of our father because we were busy seeing only the positive side in him, we were weighed down with sleep. ANC failed to study and understand president Zuma until he messed up our beautiful country. Miss Zondo and other young girls failed to understand the true identity of Pastor Omotoso until all things went wrong. The United State of America failed to understand the true identity of president Triumph until he messed up, as he keeps on doing so (Rev Emmy will be with me in this case). Then one would ask how to wakeup from being pondered down with sleep? We can do as the three disciples did and try and listen to the gospel of Jesus. We might miss the first conversation of Jesus, Moses and Elijah but we would not miss the voice from the cloud that confirmsthe identity of Jesus, “this is my Son, My Chosen, listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Just after the voice, they found Jesus alone. My people of God allow me to suggest that to know Jesus, you may not see him, you may not encounter him in the mountain, but by listening to his Gospel one can fully understand the divinity of Jesus. The voice from the cloud confirms the suggestion of Peter in Luke 9:20b that you are the Messiah of God. We must not make the same mistake we did as the family by not listening to the testimonies or other voices about our father, we were in denial to accept the true identity of him. What we did were fooling ourselves and thought our father was a good man. Listen to the voice.
“This is my son Chosen” (Luke 9:35b). Matthew and Mark, they are using “beloved” whereas Luke is using “chosen”. The fundamental part ofwhat Luke is emphasising is that Jesus is a begotten son of God, the “chosen”. In begetting, one begets something of the same nature as oneself. A human begets another human, and animals beget other animals, “Sthandwa” will beget another Sthandwa. “Begotten not made”, because if you make something, you make something differentfrom yourself. Then what God begets is God; just as man begets man. If the voice is saying “this is my chosen, listen to Him” it means this is God incarnate. This affirms his divinity to his disciples. However, the voice at times may be problematic because some people use it to manipulate other people. The problem of voice is a serious problem in our time today. People eats snakes, drinks petrol, stop going to school and going to work because the “prophet`s” voice said so. But to me I think it is clear enough that if God has a word/ a voice, it will not be a vocal word like a human, like us, a thing out of thin air, shaped by lungs and throat and tongue and teeth. God is not like that in my view, God is God and his word must be a word revealed in the mind of the person, a thought or an idea. I am suggesting that what disciples saw made them to think, to have an idea, have a thought that what was in front of them was the chosen one and because of that we need to listen to Him.
So, to wake from drunken eyes, from being weighed down by sleep, you need to listen to the voice. It may happen that you did not understandthe conversation but because you saw him in His divinity and you had the voice, that alone can confirm to us that the incarnate God is amongst us. We may not see him but in his Gospel he revealed his divinity to us. Because without understanding and know him we will never understand the invisible God. Remember my people the Incarnate one is revealing the invisible one to us. But it is in knowing the incarnate one that we know the invisible God. What we see in the incarnate God reveals to us the loving God. Therefore, by understanding the love of God through Jesus we can also learn to love each regardless our diversity “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to Him”.
While we are here my dear people of God lets discern the voice, because when we reach the stage where we can say, “yes we had the voice and understand Jesus’ divinity” it is where we will confirm our calling by Him.
The painting is by Jesus Mafa (1973), a Christian Community in Cameroon, Africa. JESUS MAFA. Transfiguration, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48307 [retrieved November 16, 2018]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).