In the bible books of Matthew (ch 17) and Mark (ch 9) is a story of what is call the “Transfiguration.”
Essentially, Jesus takes Peter, James and John (his top 3 disciples) and goes up a mountain. While they are there, Jesus is transfigured from a normal looking dude into someone whose clothes were whiter than the best Clorox available and Matthew says that Jesus face shone like the sun.
Then the story says Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses. Elijah if you recall, was scooped up into heaven in a chariot of fire without ever having to die, while Moses died on a mountain with a great view of the promised land that he wasn’t allowed to enter.
Of course Peter in his usual fashion began running his mouth out of confusion and disorientation, and suggested that he make a tent for each person. WTF?
The conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah was not recorded but there is some sense that maybe Peter, James, and John caught wind of it because Jesus told them to keep it all on the down low.
This got me thinking about how Jesus’ disciples were invited to see Jesus transfigure into something totally “OTHER.” It was as though it wasn’t sufficient for those three to simply rest on the present representation of Jesus as a man from Galilee, who healed the sick and argued with religious people.
Today, the modern church has a pretty set notion of who Jesus is, and the parameters of acceptance are so rigid that any departure from their system if ground for heresy. I’m speaking of the Jesus with long flowing hair (likely with a lot of product in it) who wears a dress and his arms are lifted in an invitational way beckoning people to “bring it in” for a group hug.
For example. A friend of mine who grew up in the South in a strict Southern Baptist tradition has rejected a lot of the fundamentalism and the associated bigotry and institutional power plays that were a part of that system. She met a Yogi many years ago and learned yoga and has been introduced to aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism. When I asked her about Jesus she said that he was likely a Yogi too and that he had to be in order to destroy 2000 years of bad Karma for the people.
Now most fundamentalists will immediately dismiss this as invalid, just as my friends parents do to this day. This is because the modern church wants nothing to do with a Transfiguration. They don’t want to see Jesus as anything but a soft-spoken story teller who will one day open up a can of whoop ass on this vile, disgusting, sinful world.
But for my friend and many others, Jesus has been transfigured. He is seen as something “other.” Why is her faith that Jesus removed 2000 years of bad Karma any less valid than the fundies who believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins. Both people are removed from the events by more than 200 decades so in both cases it is all about how Jesus’ death is “APPROPRIATED.” In both cases his death is applied and celebrated, so I ask you, how can one invalidate the other?
No modern person has a real, flesh and blood experience with Jesus, at least not in the same way as the early disciples. Each person who follows Jesus must do so on faith, which means they must somehow apply what they believe is true about his teaching. Modern people are all virtual disciples. Our contact with Him is remote, filtered through years of oral tradition, church history, and cultural changes. But He becomes powerfully vivid and alive in people who experience a “TRANSFIGURATION” where he isn’t a flesh and blood person, but a living Spirit. A voice that speaks from the inside instead of the outside. He brings light (that means influence) and it transforms how we think and choose to live, all without ever shaking his hands.
This means that the expressions of a Transfiguration are limitless. I think we will all be better off the sooner we open our hands to the countless ways that this messianic story is told in the lives of people. We all experience a frail humanity of pain, suffering and persecution. We fail and are broken. Yet despite all of this, we can arise out of the dead life and into higher ways of living, and service to our fellow man. We can become more, be healthy and make the world a better place. This is nothing less than the messianic story being written in modern times. It’s high time we recognize the work of Christ today and how it has transfigured from the cold, dead, statues of the past.
Besides, do we really want a Jesus in a dress?