Lectionary Commentary

Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary

Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for February 11, 2018

Last Sunday after Epiphany

THE READINGS

First Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12
1 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?”
And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.”
But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
So they came to Jericho. 5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?”
And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.”
But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.”
Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”
10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”
11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Worth Noting: Elisha’s request for a “double portion of Elijah’s spirit” was tantamount to asking to be the leader of the companies of prophets that followed Elijah. To begin, would you ask for a double spirit of a prophet? (Remember: Real prophets are unlikely to die of old age in a comfortable bed surrounded by friends and families.) Then, we think today of individual prophets as the norm. Are there “companies of prophets” that speak to you?

Psalm 50:1-6
1 The mighty one, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
 

3 Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 “Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.

Worth Noting: The psalmist expects God to intervene in history to bring justice to the world. Did Jesus do this? Is our notion of “justice” too small?

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Worth Noting: Paul teaches that God’s wisdom and knowledge show the Lordship of Jesus and his own call to servanthood. How do we participate in the proclamation of the Gospel? Does the Gospel include our own status of slaves? What would that look like?

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Worth Noting: If you were Peter, James, or John, wouldn’t you at least tell your wife what had happened? This incident is a fine example of what readers call the “Messianic Secret” in Mark, that Jesus did not want his identity revealed by demons or humans.

CONNECTING WITH THE SCRIPTURES

Entering into the Scriptures

The Gospel of Mark provides our earliest account of the Transfiguration, placing it on a mountain in Gentile territory, during Jesus’ journey from southern Syria back to Galilee. Mark’s Gospel devotes two of the ten chapters to Jesus’ ministry outside Galilee and Israel in southern Syria. There he engaged the Syrophoenician woman in debate and cured her daughter, fed 4000 from seven loaves and a few fish, gave the first prophecy of his passion, and was Transfigured. All outside the land of Israel.
While Mark’s geographic sense is sometimes unsure, the choice to place a significant part of Jesus’ ministry among and on behalf of foreigners seems important. Jesus, to begin, is working outside his home country. He builds relationships and brings Syrians into relationship with the God of Israel.  Jesus sanctifies the very land itself. Its produce provides miraculous sustenance to the 4000, and its mountains serve as a throne for Jesus and two great Jewish prophets, Moses and Elijah.
Assuming Mark is written in Rome to a congregation still influenced by their Jewish roots (as Ambrosiaster, writing in late 4th century Rome claimed) these stories provide an important underpinning to the ministry to the Gentiles. The God of Israel, the Gospel declares, is the God of Syrians and, by extension, the God of all people.

 Who’s Being Transformed?

Each year, on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten celebration, the Lectionary presents the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is a story foreshadowing Jesus’ coming in his glory at the end of the ages. Why tell this story at this time of the year?
Two reasons come to mind. The first is to remind Christians that as dire as things may look during Jesus’ life, passion, and death, he does rise and he will come again in just this glory. The Transfiguration reminds us that the person we follow is more than just human.
In another sense, the story of the Transfiguration is about us. Now it reminds us, before we start the journey, of our own goal for Lent. We enter Lent hopefully, acknowledging our need to change and looking to engage the practices of prayer, mortification, and charity that can transform us. Soon enough we realize Lent is hard work. The six weeks of Lent can be a slog, as grey winter grudgingly gives way to spring. The Transfiguration gives us an incentive to do the work of communal and personal transformation.

Questions for Discussion

Paul writes that he is a slave of the Corinthians for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:5). How far should Christians take that statement? How should it be lived out?

Can you describe a “mountain top experience”? Was it an awareness of a very present relationship with God or just a moment of appreciating nature? Or are these the same thing?

Lenten practices are meant to shape our attitudes (how we view each other and the world) and consciences (how we judge our actions), and strengthen our wills (what we do). Practices may be silent or noisy. What do you want to accomplish this Lent? How will you go about it?

To download a PDF version of this week’s Journeying, click here.

 

Dennis Haugh has enjoyed working with adult seekers for over 20 years. He aims to engage academic and general audiences for the New Testament. To hone his skills and burnish his credentials, he earned his PhD in Biblical Studies in the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology joint program.  He appreciates any correspondence: dennishaugh2011@gmail.com.

 

 

Unless expressly stated otherwise, all quotations from Scripture are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary © 2018 Dennis Haugh. Recent postings may be accessed at https://www.sttims.net/journeying-through-the-lectionary/.

 

 

 

 

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