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Category: Lenten Reflections 2021

Lenten Reflections 2021: The Purpose of the Cross and Good Works

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@johnvinod | April 3, 2021

Today’s reading is from Titus 2: 11-15. On this holy or silent Saturday, as we somberly reflect on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, I am constrained to suggest its implications for us today. This passage is from the Apostle Paul’s brief pastoral letter to young Titus. This young pastor was faced with several challenges in his walk with Christ as well as in his ministry. He met opposition from within and from the outside. The Apostle Paul’s encouragement and instructions to Titus are drawn from the death of Jesus Christ. He instructs us how to live as the followers of Christ today.

Paul writes,

“while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2: 13-14).

Paul unmistakably paints a picture of the purpose of the death of Christ on the cross. Through Jesus’ death, he has not only redeemed us from all our sins, but also purified/sanctified us for himself as a holy people. However, I want us to focus today only on the concluding part of the sentence. What is the purpose of God in achieving this through the death on the cross? The purpose is to make us passionate for good deeds or works!

Yes, the grace saves us, but we are also saved for good works, as Paul said in Ephesian 2: 8-10. We, who claim to know God, understand him from what he has done for us. Through what Jesus did on the cross, he demonstrated his zeal for the Father’s honor and mission on earth.

In the same manner, the cross should inspire us to work in such a way that God would be known to those around us by what we do and not just by what we believe or preach. The purpose of God in saving us through the cross of Christ is not to rush through this life for that “pie in the sky” when we die. Rather, his purpose is to make us workers for his Kingdom. That is why when Jesus called his disciples, he made it clear to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4: 19). The cross must not only provoke the zeal, but may it also inspire us to do good, even though death confront us in the path of doing good works for the Master!

In our contemporary culture of comfort, ease, and outsourcing everything to others, there is little fruit in the vineyard of God in many places. We frequently meet spent ministers and barren churches. The need of the hour is to recognize that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross to make us comfortable in the lofty theology of our individualistic redemption and the holier-than-thou denominationalized purity. Instead, let us refocus our gaze upon the cross to make us fervent for the good works of his Kingdom. Being complacent or becoming “at ease in Zion” or to “feel secure on the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1), are unbecoming of the cross of Christ. Therefore, while you and I still enjoy peace, health, and wealth, let the cross motivate us to go and work with zeal in his vineyard. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: What Can an Unnamed Soldier Teach Us?

Photo by Slices of Light on Flickr

@johnvinod | April 2, 2021

Let us read Matthew 27: 45-54. In the account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, there are so many people, aspects, and incidents in a matter of just a few hours. One could spend a lifetime studying these particulars, meditating, and learning from them. However, for me, one remarkable character who stands out on the Calvary hill is the unnamed Roman centurion. Why so? It is due to his confessional statement, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Matthew 27: 54 NRSV), or “Truly this was the Son of God!” (ESV). This extraordinary confession comes under circumstances like no other.

A Roman centurion was in command of about one hundred soldiers. He must have been an experienced soldier, a responsible man with authority, who was well trained and well paid. He appears to be the supervisor of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ along with two other small-time criminals, making sure the job was done right and on time.

Therefore, let us consider how the Roman centurion confessed faith in Jesus Christ. Most of the disciples had abandoned Jesus. They went into hiding for fear of the Romans and the Jewish religious authorities. It was only after the resurrection of Jesus Christ that they begin to gradually come out in the open and trusted his claims. The resurrected messiah appeared to the disciples in his glorious body, defying gravity and the laws of nature, making it easier to put faith and follow him. But the centurion confessed before the resurrection.

The centurion keenly studied everything about Jesus since morning. He must have wondered about everything Jesus said and did; and also, all that he did not say or do even when provoked. He must have witnessed many people die, but none died like Jesus. He must have pondered who was this man on the cross. He must have wondered if the forgiveness Jesus offered before he breathed his last was still available to him, for the centurion truly did not know what he was doing that day. Finally, “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way [Jesus] breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15: 39 ESV).

Let us consider the scenario:

When on a small hill, where no one ever wanted to be, he noticed a frail man, almost naked, completely bruised and forgiving others, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When everyone laughed shaking their head reading the plaque with an indictment placed above the head of Jesus’ cross, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When Jesus died on the cross, as a helpless man rejected and condemned by everyone, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When Jesus truly was a picture-perfect representation of a prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah; knowing not of this prophecy, the centurion confessed his divinity.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

    and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,

    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

    he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53: 2b -3 ESV).

When Jesus Christ had just breathed his last, right in front of the centurion, with a prayer on his parched lips, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When almost naked, listless body of Jesus was dangling from the cross, a symbol of shame and curse, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When he saw the midday sky turn dark, and witnessed his world enveloped in thickening gloom, the centurion confessed Jesus’ divinity.  

When he did not know any claims about his resurrection, the centurion confessed Jesus’ divinity.

When the resurrection had not yet occurred, the centurion confessed Jesus’ divinity.

In the contemporary culture, where people like and follow the rising stars, popular preachers, celebrity pastors, published authors, tenured professors, narcissistic politicians, and suchlike; Jesus Christ counters it all by his barbaric death on the cross. However, the centurion advises us today to examine our motives, faith, confessions, creeds, and the spiritual inclinations. May we stand in rapt silence contemplating the mystery of the death of Jesus Christ, as the centurion did over 2000 years ago. And may we, too, follow the humble, humiliated, suffering, crucified Son of God; even when it goes against the trends of our culture. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Your Gethsemane Does Not Define You

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@johnvinod | April 1, 2021

Our reading today is Mark 14: 32-42. After spending a significant time with his disciples, eating the Passover meal, teaching, and demonstrating by his actions what it means to follow him, Jesus leaves for the Mount of Olives. He leaves the familiarity, comfort, and warmth of the upper room behind him and walks into the specters of a dark, uncertain, fateful night where he will fight his last battle in Gethsemane. In doing so he once again symbolized what he had done initially: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 6-8).

Jesus wrestled alone in Gethsemane. These are some of the words the gospels writers use attempting to describe Jesus’ inner struggle that night:

“distressed and agitated”

“grieved and agitated”

“greatly distressed and troubled”

“deeply distressed and horrified”

“sore amazed, and to be very heavy”

“deeply grieved, even to death”

“very sorrowful, even to death”

“overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”

“exceedingly sorrowful, even to death”

These terms do not even begin to express what Jesus endured that night, as he was filled with distress and horror and felt very heavy with the burden that he had to carry all alone. There is actually more involved here than we would ever come to know, because of the limitations of our language in expressing the experience of our Saviour.

Jesus got up several times from the cold, grassy ground and looked for his disciples to share his agony. However, when he much needed their companionship, comfort, and prayers, the disciples were found sleeping. So, he went back again to wrestling alone with his “Abba Father” (Mark 14: 36) being anguished from what was to unfold in the next few hours. Receiving no answer from God for his request, Jesus prayed saying, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14: 36). In this, Jesus taught us the difference between a request and a prayer. Being fully human, Jesus’ request was: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.” But his prayer was: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14: 36 ESV).

Do you recall a time when you thought you were going to fail a test or succumb to a temptation? Are you in a situation where you think you are shrinking from your faith and wish to give up everything and walk away from God? Well, you are not alone. Jesus endured what you may be facing now and more. Jesus Christ was never more human than in Gethsemane. However, that was not the end of his story.

Your current experience does not mean you are too weak to overcome. Your temptations and even your failures do not mean there is anything wrong with you. Your Gethsemane does not define you as it did not define our Lord Jesus Christ. Keep walking in the faith, following, trusting, and surrendering to his will. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Tears of the Weeping Prophet

Jésus pleura by James Tissot, courtesy

@johnvinod | March 31, 2021

Please begin today by reading Luke 19: 41-44. During the last days of Jesus, also known as the passion week, he stayed a stone’s throw from the city of Jerusalem. It is believed that the family of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha hosted him in their home in Bethany. From there, it appears that Jesus walked to the temple almost every day to teach to whoever would care to listen. On one such trips, as Jesus approaches a ledge on a rocky road, he is greeted by a magnificent panoramic view of the city of Jerusalem situated on the mount Zion. What happens next is one of the most poignant moments in Jesus’ life during the passion week. Only Luke recorded it for us writing without comments, “As [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19: 41 NRSV).

Luke uses a strong word, which is more than just shedding tears, as the term often conveys inconsolable sobbing. It could also be translated “he mourned over it,” which could mean weeping with a loud voice or bursting into tears. We are not told how long Jesus wept or how hard he mourned. But let us pause for a few moments and let this sink in… Jesus Christ, the Creator, the Messiah, the Lord, and the Savior, sobbing, lamenting, over his own city/nation. A young man, surrounded by a band of twelve adult men, weeping with a loud voice.

This is particularly sobering to read in the context of the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the crowds shouting hosanna and hallelujahs on the day he rode into Jerusalem. Because of raising Lazarus from the dead, many Jews now believed in him (John 11:45; 12: 11). And he was receiving much praise, adoration, name and fame, more than ever before. Nevertheless, this did not matter much to Jesus, as he knew the same crowds would soon be screaming “crucify him”! Therefore, instead of celebrating, Jesus inconsolably wept…. He was weeping over his people and his nation.

In the tears of Jesus was distilled an eternity of God’s grief over his people whom he had chosen, provided, and protected, but who rejected him when he came to them. If you and I were to travel the same road today, I am pretty sure we would weep, too. Because watching from the same ledge today, you would look, but you will not find the temple anymore! In its place, there is a shrine called the Dome of the Rock located on the temple mount.

As a prophet, Jesus foresaw their future and he wept. Then he went on predicting what would happen to the temple mount in the coming days:

“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19: 42-44 NRSV).

Jesus’ prophecy came to fulfillment in 70 AD when a Roman general, Titus, laid siege to Jerusalem during the Passover Festival. His armies devastated the city, killing at least a million Jews and enslaving others.

Jesus wept over a friend’s death, but he was able to raise Lazarus from the dead by calling him out from his grave.

Jesus also wept over his nation’s spiritual death, but he was unable to revive it, because they would not obey when he called them out of their slumber.

Today, how about you and me? How about our churches? Would we heed his words and his tears? Today, what is he calling us from? What is Jesus calling us to do? Let us pray that we would listen and obey. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: WWJD Do to the Religious Flea Market?

Giovanni Antonio Fumiani: The Cleansing of the Temple detail from Wikimedia commons

 @johnvinod | March 30, 2021

Today’s reading is Mark 11: 15-19. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it was the Passover Festival. The city was bustling with people from all over Israel, along with visitors from other nations.

In preparation for the Passover, every household was busy thoroughly and religiously cleaning their dwellings. The remembrance and celebration of the Passover were a serious business for the Jews. It was an opportunity not only to thank God for the liberation from Egyptian slavery, but also for passing on their religion to the next generation (Exodus 13). Therefore, they ceremonially searched every nook and even the tiniest bit of yeast, or food containing yeast, was wiped out of the house.

However, the only house that was overlooked year after year was the House of God. They had only one temple where sacrifices were accepted. Over the years, the temple and its sacrificial system became a symbol of a religion gone bad. It became a seat of corruption, exploitation, and commercialization of all sorts.  

When Jesus entered the temple, he was greeted by the clinking of metal coins, flapping of a bird’s wings, bleating of lambs, the stench of the animal dung and bird droppings, along with the irritating noise of negotiations. However, what made him really furious, to the extent that he made a whip and drove out the sellers and exchangers from the temple? It was the fact that it was all being carried out in the court of the Gentiles.

By design, the temple welcomed and provided a spacious court for the people of all nations to come and pray there. This court was now filled with stalls, tents, animals, and sellers engaged in a profitable commerce. This outraged Jesus as he recalled the prayer of king Solomon, offered at the dedication of this Temple:

“Likewise when foreigners, who are not of your people Israel, come from a distant land because of your great name, and your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house, 33 may you hear from heaven your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigners ask of you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33 NRSV).

He also remembered prophet Isaiah’s powerful words:

“…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56: 7b-8 NRSV).

With all that Jesus witnessed in the Gentile’s court, there was hardly any room left for the foreigners to assemble. The commercialization was hindering the nations from seeking God and praying to him. Jesus knew that those who pushed prayer out of the temple, turning it instead into a religious flea market, must be driven out! Jesus finally cleansed the house of God, which the people of God had neglected for long.

May the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem lead us to look into our own churches. The institutionalization of a spiritual movement that Jesus started has been turned into a full-fledged profitable, professional, commercial enterprise. We are proud of running our churches like companies where prayers and missions…reaching out to the foreigners, the refugees, the vulnerable people, and those seeking God has been pushed out. We have become so inward looking and businesslike that the original mission of the church has been all but forgotten. Would we allow the Lord Jesus Christ to thoroughly search and clean us, and our businesses,…err…churches today?

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Lenten Reflections 2021: What Did Jesus Riding a Donkey Symbolize?

Image from Wikimedia

     @johnvinod | March 29, 2021

Today’s readings are Matthew 21: 1-11 and Zechariah 9: 9-11. All gospel writers refer to Jesus Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem during the passion week. They include a reference to a donkey, the animal selected for riding into Jerusalem. Matthew directly quotes the prophet Zechariah 9:9, who uses three different words for the animal. These words are difficult to render into languages such as English. I find that the new Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanakh translation renders it much better than others:

Rejoice greatly, Fair Zion; Raise a shout, Fair Jerusalem! Lo, your king is coming to you. He is victorious, triumphant, Yet humble, riding on an ass, On a donkey foaled by a she-ass (Zechariah 9: 9 NJPS).

The reason Zechariah used different words for a donkey is to distinguish the animal from other species. The prophets of Israel used symbols and symbolic language to convey their message to a mostly oral culture. The original readers of the prophecy would have understood the distinction Zechariah was at pains to convey with his choice of words. The Messiah will come riding an ass, not just an ass, but a donkey, which is foaled or birthed by a she-ass, that is, a purebred jackass. Thus, ruling out a horse, a mule, or a mixed breed.

For this reason, Jesus Christ deliberately rode a donkey, not just any donkey, but a purebred jackass as opposed to a royal horse or a mule used by the kings and princes for wars and conquests. As in the very next verse, Zechariah clearly associated horses with chariots and wars:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations;

his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9: 10 ESV).

Therefore, Jesus Christ wished to signify once and for all that even though he is indeed the messiah and the king, he does not come as the conquering, colonizing, military ruler subduing everything and everyone under his power. The battles, wars, and conquests do not belong to his mission. People of his time expected such a messiah, especially as they suffered under the Roman Empire. Our history is replete with the examples of how Christian churches and missions misunderstood Jesus as the conquering messiah when they went about colonizing and civilizing places and people around the world. That is why in most cases; the cross followed the colonial flag. Alas! All in the name of Jesus Christ!

Our readings today remind us what Jesus Christ had already stated in no uncertain terms that he comes as the humble One. He comes riding a purebred jackass, representing humility and peace. And he comes with Shalom for all rather than the conquest of peoples and places! The Hebrew word shalom is not just peace or the absence of conflict and war. Rather, it means a holistic life full of freedom, health, peace, prosperity, and the presence of God for all who would follow him. May we follow this Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Discipleship is a Matter of Responding to God’s Call

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 @johnvinod | March 26, 2021

Today let us read Mark 3: 13- 18. Note that this key passage about the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ is different from the calling of his disciples earlier. Soon after Jesus Christ came out of his wilderness experience, he called the disciples, as seen in Mark 1: 16-20. We are not informed how many Jesus had called to follow him, but I believe, there were dozens of people. However, today’s incident of Mark 3 occurred some time later, when he had already gained a steady following. In this event, Jesus does something absolutely crucial for the church he was beginning.

As was his practice, Jesus accomplished this on a retreat at a mountain away from the lakeside to withdraw from the crowds. Luke informs us that Jesus spent a whole night in prayer there (Luke 6: 12). And then Jesus called to himself only the twelve men whom he “desired” or “wanted.” The original has it as ‘whom he would’ or ‘whom he himself would.’ Thus, it rules out anyone offering themselves to be his apostles! And they came to him without delay. Mark is providing a contrast here between the general crowds that flocked to Jesus on their own and those whom Jesus wanted, selected, and called unto himself, before he “appointed” or ordained/commissioned them.

Then he appointed and named them the “apostles” (Mark 3:14). The word means the sent-out ones with a specific purpose who maintain with Jesus a close relationship. They also received personal hands-on training from him. They were not merely to pass on the teachings of Jesus, but they were to represent and extend the Kingdom he had inaugurated.

In the whole process, the initiative is that of Jesus from the beginning. It was his sovereign idea, in calling, in choosing from among those he had called to follow him, and then in appointing those whom he had chosen. Therefore, discipleship in the sense of belonging to Jesus and following him is a matter of God’s initiative and his work in our lives rather than our choice. The missions or ministry of the Kingdom is not something we can select ourselves as one would undertake a profession. That is why, these words of Jesus must have always rung in the mind of these apostles, which Jesus said just before he was betrayed and arrested:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you (John 15: 16 ESV)

The Lord has not changed his mind or the process about calling and appointing. It is still his way for us. As I reflect upon my life and calling, I am amazed to see the hand of God in every step of the way…. how God picked me up from a tiny unknown hamlet and orchestrated everything for me to be equipped for His ministry. In the same way, the Lord knows from the beginning about everyone of us. He not only calls, but equally prepares and shapes everything in us toward the fulfillment that he has planned through us for His Kingdom.

On the other hand, down through the centuries, much irreparable damage has been done in the mission fields or in the churches by those who chose to dub themselves into missions. They often did so because they wanted to accomplish something great for themselves using the name of God. May the Lord help us today to ascertain his calling and purpose in each one of our lives. Amen!

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Tradition of Othering and Jesus’ Imperative to Love

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@johnvinod | March 25, 2021

Please begin by reading Matthew 5: 43-48. Soon after Jesus victoriously came out of his wilderness experience, he preached his inaugural sermon. This is often known as the “Sermon on the Mount” and is found in Matthew chapters 5-7 and also in Luke ch. 6. A close observer may find several similarities between Jesus’ first sermon and the Old Testament scriptures –the Torah and the Prophets. This should not be surprising. As we noticed in the wilderness, Jesus knew the Scriptures so thoroughly and employed them as his defense against the assaults of the devil.

However, Jesus’ teaching on love, in today’s passage, is the most distinctive and revolutionary part of Jesus’ teachings in his inaugural message to the people of Israel. Simply put, it is: “love your enemies!”

Jesus Christ included this teaching among his other high ethic imperatives for a reason. Since Jesus was a Jewish man and was brought up in Galilee, he perfectly understood the Jewish practice of “othering” the Gentiles. He knew their prejudices about “others.” The other nations in Jewish tradition were regarded as their enemies and they were justified in doing so because of what has been traditionally said about the other. Judaism expected people to struggle for the sake and in the name of God. They were expected to resist evil. Often, the “other” or the “nations” were evil because they were enemies of God and his people. The Torah was even used to justify warfare against the enemies. Therefore, through this revolutionary teaching on loving their enemies, Jesus was undercutting their centuries old stereotyping of “others” thus setting a tone for the rest of his ministry in the upcoming days.

The way Jesus dealt with the Samaritan woman (John 4), how he handled a Samaritan village’s rejection (Luke 9: 51-56), and how he raised up a Samaritan in his parable as a hero in relation with the Jews (Luke 10: 25-37), were all demonstrations of this central teaching.

Jesus’ response to his tradition, in the inaugural sermon, is not just an extension of the Torah prescription of loving God and loving your neighbor, but it is indeed revolutionary. The imperative to love your enemies was primarily directed to the people of Israel. This would not make the “other” or the “nations” as Israelites. The “other” will still be different from them, but they would no longer be treated as their “enemies.” Instead, the other becomes the object of their love in the same manner as they love God and their Jewish neighbor.

The same challenge is passed on to us who believe in Jesus Christ and read his teachings. If you and I were to follow Jesus and approach the “other” about whom we do not always know much, and who we habitually stereotype and develop certain prejudices against; then, the imperative is for us, too, to love the “other.” And if we loved our “enemies” there would be no racial discrimination, no hatred, and indeed there would be no war! I completely understand it is easier said than done; however, this revolutionary high ethic of Jesus demands us that we obey him. May we pray for God’s enabling grace because we need it now more than ever. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Purpose of the Vision of Transfiguration

Icon from the Monastery of St. Catherine’s in the Sinai desert. ca 1200, by Tim on Flickr

@johnvinod | March 24, 2021

Let us begin by reading once again the episode of the “transfiguration” of Jesus Christ, but today from Luke’s gospel chapter 9: 28-36, rather than from Matthew’s gospel which we read yesterday.

I want to reflect today on the purpose of this unusual but significant event. Manifestly, the objective of the event, in the form of a “vision” or divine epiphany, was not for the sake of Jesus. Instead, it was for the sake of his disciples represented on the mount by Peter, James, and John. It was to clarify and convince them of Jesus’ identity, suffering, death, and mission.

Peter, who frequently seems to speak first and regret leisurely, was quick to respond. Luke is the only writer who adds a side note about Peter:

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 (Luke 9: 33 ESV).

The issue here is Peter places Jesus on the same platform along with two of the most charismatic leaders of his religion, i.e., Moses and Elijah. They were indeed incredible leaders of their time. However, Jesus was not only superior to them, but he was divine. That is why, even before Peter could finish his suggestion (“not knowing what he said”), a voice intervened. In a way rebuking Peter’s suggestion of ranking Jesus on the same level with his Jewish leaders, the voice plainly told them:

As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9: 34-35 ESV)

The announcement was to derive the point of his divinity home to the disciples as noted in the letter to Hebrews, later: “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant,… but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:5-6 ESV).

Further, the purpose of the “vision” of the transfiguration was for the sake of his disciples. Because the voice was to command them that they were to listen and heed what Jesus had to say from now on. Even if Jesus candidly briefed them that he was to suffer and die a cruel death on the cross. They were to keep complete trust in God that whatever happened to Jesus in the upcoming days was all divinely orchestrated. And as the later events of the passion of Christ inform us, like any Jew, it was not easy for them because they did not anticipate a Messiah who would suffer and die.

God knew it was hard for them to accept a suffering Messiah. Therefore, the purpose of the transfiguration was to aid them believe and prepare to accept that even though Christ would be arrested, physically tortured, and die, it is not going to be his defeat. Rather, all these events were truly according to the will of God, and Jesus willingly submitted to it to carry out the plan of God for the salvation of humanity.

May the Holy Spirit encourage us today to trust God and have confidence in his infinite wisdom even when it appears, like it was for the disciples, almost impossible to trust and obey him. God is God because he knows the end from the beginning. And he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, so that we would “listen to him”! Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Who did They See with Jesus on the Mountain?

Image by Tony Basilio on Flickr

 @johnvinod | March 23, 2021

Let us begin by reading Matthew 17: 1-13. When Jesus’ suffering and death were imminent, Jesus shared this with the Twelve in no uncertain terms. Jesus might have also been tempted to withdraw from it all, God permitting, in light of the looming suffering and a cruel death. If not, he was willing to obey the will of God in everything. Therefore, he aspired for much needed strength from his Father before the descent, from now onward, into the dark valley of loneliness, misunderstanding, and suffering that awaits him.

He often withdrew from the demands of his busy ministry to spend time in communion with his Father. So, one day, Jesus went up a mountain, taking with him only three of his closest disciples—Peter, James, and John.

As soon as Jesus knelt down in the posture of prayer, I assume, the trio of weary disciples fell asleep in the cool breeze of the serene mountain top. They were woken up by a burst of intense light around them. Luke states, “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 (Luke 9: 32 ESV).

They could not believe their eyes and must have immediately jumped to their feet as they saw Jesus completely transformed in his appearance. A form they had never seen before. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17: 2 NRSV).

As though this transfiguration was not sufficient, when the disciples adjust their sleepy eyes to the bright light around them, they “see” Jesus engaged in a conversation with Moses and Elijah. What a fabulous privilege of the trio to witness a glimpse of God’s glory.

However, the main question to reflect for me today is: How did the trio recognize who the other two persons were with Jesus? There was no photography then and the Jewish people were forbidden from making images. There could be several conjectures:

  • Jesus himself shared with his stunned disciples, as he introduced his visitors, Moses and Elijah, to them.
  • They probably heard it announced. For the sake of Jesus’ disciples, a heavenly voice revealed the identity of the two visitors to further affirm Jesus’ divine glory (Matthew 17:5).
  • Perhaps, the disciples recognized the two most renowned celebrities of Judaism through the conversations they overheard among Jesus and his visitors. Only Luke gives us a glimpse of their conversation saying, “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 31 NRSV). Any Jewish child could associate it with the memories of the great “exodus” under Moses, and Elijah’s departure from earth without facing death.
  • Perhaps, Jesus himself was talking to his visitors by their names that the disciples overheard and believed.
  • I would like to go with yet another possibility: Remember, the disciples wrote down this account after quite some time. When the four of them were descending down from the mountain, Jesus clearly instructed the trio not to share this “vision” with anyone else until after his resurrection. The word “vision” holds the key for this possibility:

“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” (Matthew 17: 9 NRSV).

Therefore, I think, more than a literal, physical appearance per se, it was a spiritual “vision” of Moses (the Lawgiver) and Elijah (the Prophet) conversing with Jesus (the Messiah) to confirm him as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Just as in a dream, no one tells us who we “saw” or “met,” we just know it, and we also recall having conversations with people dead or alive. Likewise, in a spiritual vision on the mountain top, the disciples just knew it, by the nature of the vision, who they had “seen”! They celebrated the confirmation of their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Subsequently, they were willing to lay down their lives later for the sake of Jesus’ mission. May they inspire us, too, today.

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