TRANSFORMATION- TRANSLATION- TRANSFIGURATION – 2nd Sunday in lent – Mark 9:2-10

And now for the second time the Father bears testimony to the son. Jesus the beloved, is acclaimed by God as ‘His voice’; “listen to him” says God. Earlier in Chapter 1:11, God proclaims Jesus as his son in whom he is ‘well pleased’.  So surely, the transfiguration must be a pivotal point in the Gospel of Mark. Attached to this pericope is what is called the Elijah question (11- 13). Let us understand this pericope a bit more.

Jesus has just pronounced the first of His three passion predictions and teachings on discipleship. He will do this again in chapter 9:31 and 10:33. Peter has pronounced Jesus as the Christ but is far from understanding what the Father’s revelation to him means. Scripture tells us that Peter is lost in an illusion of an earthy kingdom of power. He therefore remonstrates with Jesus in an attempt to prevent him walking down the road of suffering.  Now as it were, to reiterate his earlier question on whom men thinks Jesus is, the Master takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain.

We have no idea where this place definitely is. Scholars have opined that it may be Mount Tabor or Hermon. In the Old Testament, mountains were the usual settings for supernatural revelations and manifestations of God. In the New Testament Jesus teaches the Sermon on the Mount and dies on the cross on mount Calvary. These manifestations are called theophanies. (Theo= God, Phaneroo = make clear) It is here that the form of Jesus changes; that’s why we call it the ‘transfiguration’. Peter’s confession is now revealed in visual form. The disciples of Jesus see the master’s glorious state which so far they have been revealed only in words. This is the glorious state that Jesus will have after his death and resurrection. It is this glorious state that we will all have in heaven.

To a Jew, listening to this narrative, the reality could not be clearer. Moses and Elijah represented the fullness of the law and the prophets; Moses, to whom the law was given and Elijah who embodied the role of the prophets.  The presence of Elijah also forms a link to the following verses (9: 11-13) According to the prophet Malachi (3:23-24) Elijah’s return would precede the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. Elijah had to come first before Jesus could be raised from the dead; and so here was Elijah at the transfiguration. But Jesus makes a more startling revelation in 9:13, “Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased.”

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Psalm 119: 1- 8 –  Follow….the Law of Life

Psalm 119 is massive. It is the Mount Everest of Psalms and is the longest chapter found in any book of the Bible. It consists of 176 verses. To put that in perspective, all of Psalm 119 is equal to the first six chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. For the Eucharist of today, the lectionary has picked verses 1&2,4&5,7&8; however we will study all of the first eight verses.

Like Psalm 34 which we studied a few days ago, Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem. In these poems, each verse typically begins with a successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Thus, the first verse would begin with ‘aleph’ and the second with ‘beth’, and so on, until the poet reached the end of the alphabet. Psalm 119 is a bit different when compared to other acrostic poems. While it contains all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each section consisting of eight verses, begins each verse with the same Hebrew letter of the alphabet. So, the first eight verses all start with ‘aleph,’ the first letter of the Hebrew alphabets, the second eight verses begin with ‘bet’ and so on. In this way all 22 letters of the alphabets are grouped in sets of eight verses. 22 letters of the alphabets multiplied by 8 verses each give you a total of 176 verses; the length of the Psalm. The use of acrostic psalms served as a memory device.

Psalm 119 has the “law” as its major interest or theme. Seven Hebrew words are used in synonymous interchange with the word “torah,” usually translated as law, but better translated as instruction. Those seven words are (in the NRSV Bible and it would be good to mark them): decree, precept, statute, commandment, ordinance, word, and promise. While each synonym carries a slightly different nuance of meaning, little is gained by attempting to distinguish a separate meaning, theological or otherwise, for each of them. The repeated use of these synonyms is just to make a point; the law is paramount, the law is good.

Throughout this psalm, the psalmist speaks of following God’s law; not as a burdensome discipline but as a saving grace. It focuses on the good that comes from keeping God’s law. Even though it basically says the same thing over and over again with slight modification, it reflects the need to praise God with endless variation on this same theme that is often looked at unfavourably in our day. Christians today, do not typically share the psalm’s unflagging insistence on the strict adherence to the “law” or torah. The law of God sadly seems to be a rallying point for rebels with any cause.

The first verses of this grandest of the psalms offer a beatitude or a blessing. In fact, since it appears twice in verses one and two it can only be seen as a double blessing. The word ‘ashre’, is rendered in most English translations as “happy” or “blessed.” In our text it reads as “happy, are those whose way is blameless, who walks in the law of the LORD (Yahweh). It occurs some forty times in the Old Testament, twenty-seven times in the book of Psalms (Psalms 1:1; 41:2; 89:16; 112:1; 119:1,2; 128:1; 146:5).

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Psalm 130 – Wait, Watch, Hope

Psalm 130 has played a major role in Catholic piety. It has inspired church musicians for centuries. No fewer than thirty-six works by major composers such as Mozart, Handel, Mendelssohn, and Schoenberg have been attributed to this psalm which is best known by its Latin incipit ‘De Profundis’ or translated into English as, “out of the depths.”

Psalm 130 is one of the seven penitential psalms; the others being psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. These psalms often express deep sorrow for sin and ask God for help and forgiveness. The superscription (that which is found in your Bible just before the first verse and appears as a title) calls this a ‘song of ascents’ These psalms may have been sung by pilgrims ascending the road to Jerusalem (which was on a mountain) for the three great festivals or it is possible that the Levites may have sung these psalms as they ascended the fifteen steps to the temple.

Psalm 130 is a prayer for help at a time of deep personal need. Grief, depression, illness, poverty, abuse; any of these experiences, and so many more, can plunge us into a darkness so deep that it can feel almost like death. While this is an individual’s prayer it also serves also as an invitation to the community of believers to hope in the promise of redemption.

The psalm begins with a cry to the Lord from the depths (Hebrew: ma‘amaggiym). The word ma‘amaggiym is used for deep mud that mires one’s feet (Psalm 69:2) and deep waters that overwhelm the sailor and his cargo ( as in Ezekiel 27:34). These images are helpful here, because the psalmist is writing, not about mud or water, but about something (we know not what) that has overwhelmed him.

It is the psalmist voice that dominates the first two verse when he uses the words, ‘I cry’, ‘MY supplication’, ‘ MY voice. There is a sense of desperation, for the psalmist pleads to God to be ‘attentive to the voice of my supplication’. Yet at once we can also see that this cry comes from a deep relationship and from a sense of confidence. Notice that the Psalm has the word ‘YAHWEH’ written in your text as ‘LORD’(all capitals) and the word ‘Adonai’, which is a title for God, also found in your text, written as ‘Lord’ ( L is capital while the rest are small letters). The familiarity with God prompts the psalmist to keep switching, four times in the psalm, from the holy name of God to his title as Adonai.

This familiarity of the psalmist with God, reiterates his confidence that God will hear and respond to every cry of pain that stems from the relationship he shares with God. He knows that God is merciful; in fact he insists on proclaiming this characteristic of God. It’s like when you approach a person, you know their character, you know if they will and can do something for you. You will only approach them when you know your plea will be heard. The psalmist knows the character of God not from a book but from a personal relationship with him. This is what the psalm encourages us to do too, to build that relationship with God.

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Psalm 138 – He’s got the whole world in HIS hands

Have you ever written God a thank you note? Psalm 138 which is categorised as a psalm of thanksgiving is a good example of a note of gratitude that is written by David to God. This gratitude to God is also expressed by David amid trouble and opposition, all the while relying on God’s help and entrusting the future to God’s care, as we will see in the Psalm.

It is the first in the final collection of eight psalms identified as “of David” in the Psalter (138-145). It is quite evident that the psalm was composed after its author had come through a rather tight scrape. At the heart of this challenge that the psalmist faced is an account of God’s deliverance. The account of deliverance is very short in this psalm: “On the day I called, you answered me…” (138:3).

The psalm is a total of eight brief verse and may be divided as follows: I thank you, God (1-3), this is our God (4-6), you are with me (7-8). Psalm 138 gives thanks to God in the presence of three groups: the gods (verses 1-3); the kings of the earth (verses 4-6); and enemies (verses 7-8).

The psalm opens with thanksgiving to God, a thanksgiving that oozes with tremendous gratitude that ‘comes from the heart’. This thanksgiving is seen in the number of times that words ‘thanks’ and ‘praise’ appear in the psalm. Interestingly the reason for the thanksgiving and praise is mentioned in verse 3 only as; “on the day I called, you answered me, you increased the strength of my soul.”

We are not told what the issue or challenge was except that the psalmist was convinced that his prayer was answered. Perhaps a deeper look might suggest that the problem or difficulty faced by the psalmist had not been eradicated but even continued to persist. Why do I say that? The psalmist thanks God for answering his prayer but even more for ‘increasing the strength of his soul’. In short the answer to the prayer was not the disappearance of the issue at hand but the courage given by God to bear the difficulty.

The word ‘soul’ in Hebrew is translated as ‘nephesh’ and should rightly translated in English as ‘my true self’ or ‘my innermost being’. This thought that God does not take away our trial but strengths our innermost being is reiterated in verse seven which is a mirror reflection of Psalm 23:4. Verse seven acknowledges that “while I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies.” Verse seven affirms that the issue at hand has not disappeared, the psalmist continues to walk in the midst of his troubles and his enemies wrath are still his troubles, yet because the Lord increased the strength of his soul  he is able to face the storm and is able to give thank with all his heart.

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 Good things in God’s time  –Matthew 7: 7-12 

Today we study Matthew 7:7-12. You could say we are entering the final lap, the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount covers some very diverse topics and spans  three chapters. 

When we read this text, we feel bound to ask if this Gospel is true? On the surface, it sounds like we have just been asked to make a wish list. We think of Jesus’ words as carte blanche. It looks as though whatever we ask for, whatever we seek, whatever door we open, God will give it to us. Hence, some people take this to mean just about everything; you can have whatever your heart desires, all you have to do is ask. Yet, so often our prayers seem to go unheard or unanswered. We tend to feel that our prayer was such a waste of time.

This passage also raises certain questions; one from the text itself and the other a consequence of the thoughts in our heart. First, what does the word, ‘it’, refer to in the sentence, “ask and ‘it’ will be given to you?” In other words, when Jesus said, “ask, and it will be given you,” what might we expect to receive? The second, what is the ‘it’ in our life? In other words, if we were to ask God for something, what would it be?

This way of thinking pushes our materialistic nature and plays on the thought that if we ask God for anything (since he said so) we could have anything we wanted, as if in having IT (there is that word again) we would be happy. It sounds like “ask, and it will be given you” is a blank cheque, where all you have to do is fill in the amount and sit back. This way of thinking brings out the worst in us and leads us to think of life in terms of material wealth and of God as the ultimate sugar daddy.

This text is also misused especially by those who preach the prosperity gospel, sometimes also known as the health and wealth gospel. Such teachings say that God wants all Christians to be wealthy and healthy, and that if you are a Christian and you are not living in financial abundance and good health it is because you haven’t asked and haven’t believed God in what you are asking for. All you need to do is stand on the promises of God and claim your inheritance as a child of God.

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