Can't be about the laundry

Jesus is transfigured and Mark reports that the dry cleaners would be very impressed with the whiteness of Jesus' gowns. That's how to make the point here? 

"Jesus' clothes were more white than even the best laundry and a gallon of bleach could accomplish." 

Laundering and the transformation may have a connection in entomological circles, but God seems to prefer his revelations to be multi-layered and mysterious. Something bigger than laundry is going on here.

Image by Moshe Harosh

Something big is going on here

By John Pearring
James 3:1-10
Mark 9:2-13

I was surprised when reading the commentaries about Saturday’s gospel (Feb 19). After scanning the teachings on the verses, it appears that the importance of Jesus' Transformation lies purposely in the shadows. God mutes two significant issues for us, 21st Century readers, in much the same way he introduced them to the apostles. Fanfare immediately toned down for another time when we're able and ready to accept it. 

The mind-blowing presence of Jesus with Elijah and Moses changed the allegiance of the apostles well beyond what I thought. In essence, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up that hill to place himself as Lord over the two biggest celebrities in Hebrew/Israeli history, and simultaneously confirmed that God's manner of opening our eyes involves a lot more than a whisper in our ears.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but God can be unabashedly flamboyant yet blasé at the same time.

And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.

Jesus is transfigured and Mark reports that the dry cleaners would be very impressed with the whiteness of Jesus' gowns. That's how to make the point here? "Jesus' clothes were more white than even the best laundry and a gallon of bleach could accomplish." Laundering and the transformation may have a connection in entomological circles, but God seems to prefer his revelations to be multi-layered and mysterious.

High theatre on a mountain top is a common tactic for God. Recall Moses getting the tablets, twice, and Elijah hearing God's whispers in the wind during a lightning storm. The Transfiguration also takes place on a mountain. Unlike a magician who skews our attention away from the secret of a trick with shocking displays, God's revelations are the real deal. The secrets aren't behind flashing hands. They're written in scriptures in stark view. However, God's orchestration provides so many elements that we can't possibly keep up. That's OK, he tells us. All is for his glory and for our enlightenment.

The entire Transformation experience may well have taken less than an hour, counting the hike up and down the mountain. I may be exaggerating, but the shortness of something so cosmic in human history is very striking in its manner. After climbing the mountain, Jesus wastes no time getting down to business. They get to the top, and then Jesus interjects an, "Oh, by the way," and then bam. Jesus is revealed as divine. 

To highlight the scene, Moses and Elijah represent heaven's glorified witnesses to Jesus' divinity by popping into view. Their appearance similarly takes place quickly. Without even a "Hi, guys," they arrive just after Jesus' spectacular light show from heaven's portal. The three disciples have dropped to their knees, gobsmacked at Jesus' holiness, and now flummoxed over the arrival of two ancient historical religious icons.  

These two fellas are responsible for some of the grandest miracle events in the scripture. Nobody really comes close. Nonetheless, Moses and Elijah present themselves with nonchalance. 

"Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus." 

The two of them sidle up to Jesus like they're at a wine and cheese party. They might well be chatting about the mountain they're standing on. "This place has a lot of history," Elijah said to Jesus. And then Moses added that the bright white of heaven sure does wash out the colors of the earth. "Been a while since I've been here," Elijah said. "Didn't I leave on that chariot into heaven just over there?"

You know, stuff that three fellas talk about when they meet up because they've known each other for thousands of years. 

That's the second element of import for the Transfiguration. Thousands of years have gone by since Elijah and Moses were taken up into heaven. They may well have been at heaven's baby shower send-off when the 2nd person of the Trinity morphed (incarnated is more appropriate) at Mary's home. One moment the Son is with them in heaven, and in the next moment, Gabriel announced God's conception in her womb. Heads must have been spinning.

Top dogs in human history conversing with Jesus on a mountain, while three stupefied fishermen watch, signals epic stuff. Yes, but laundry and conversation are the watchwords for the day, not historical pendulums. 

It gets better. 

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
then from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Just in case the apostles, and us, weren't sure who Jesus really was God the Father speaks just like he did at Jesus' baptism. You'd expect angels to show up, singing and flapping in regal formation. But, nothing. 

Suddenly, looking around, the disciples no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.

This begins the hidden plan of both the Father and Jesus. I'll use a quote from The Collegeville Bible Commentary, a Catholic resource. 

“Their refreshing pause on the mountain is over. Glimpses of glory that Christians receive from God are real, but according to Mark, they are given so that Christians can move on with him, and with him alone (v. 8).”  *

God doesn't perform parlor tricks, pulling stored aces from his sleeves. He lays all his cards on the table. The Collegeville commentary aptly explains a key revelation in the Transfiguration. It's a "glimpse." Yes, Moses and Elijah have been worthy inspirations, major forces in the development of the Israelites. They, however, arrive at the Transfiguration to shift all attention to Jesus. It takes only a moment. The glorification of Jesus is, in fact, the focus for all of revelation. That's no small thing. Going forward, keep your eyes on Jesus.

Jesus purposely downplays the event as they walk back down the mountain. He doesn't want the three disciples with him to spend time thinking about what it all means because there are a bunch of other things they must absorb. Jesus and his Father have just planted a seed, one that ends up in all three synoptic gospels and is locked into every Christian, bible-reading follower of Christ. Jesus has a future connection to make.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.

Isn't that just the best? God shifts from the glory of Jesus' divinity to Jesus' death and resurrection. The disciples have barely scratched the surface of what just took place and now they've been handed Pandora's Box. "Don't open it. There's a whole bunch of stuff you won't understand yet."

From high mountain phenomenon to "rising from the dead." This is purposeful, not just an aside, or a remembered item on a mission objective list. The disciples now wonder what Jesus meant by rising from the dead because what they just saw won't make any sense until then. That tells us everything. 

God segues at every moment in all of our lives. From revelation to revelation we're being formed, steeled against evil, tied tightly to each other, and overwhelmed with both goodness and struggle. Engaged in all of that activity are God's whispers to "Be not afraid." We are told to be patient. More is happening than we can know, even as God tells us what is coming next.

Even though all three reporters in the gospels thought mentioning laundry was the big deal, the Transfiguration is not just about the laundry. We, too, must now attend to that Pandora's Box of Jesus' horrifying death and his delightful resurrection. Once we've done that, there's more. The hit parade just keeps on coming ...

* Bergant, D., & Karris, R. J. (1989). The Collegeville Bible commentary: based on the New American Bible with revised New Testament (p. 921). Liturgical Press.

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